November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. Here at Brandermill Woods, we are a continuum of care community, and our nursing staff in our health care center and assisted living communities serve as caregivers for our residents.
But caregiving often starts well before assisted living—usually with a family member or private caregiver in the home. Family members serving as caregivers have a big job, and our hat is off to caregivers everywhere this month. In recognition of the occasion, here are a few tips for new caregivers:
Accept That Caregiving Is a Challenge
There are a few saints in this world who volunteer as caregivers, but most people are drafted for the job when a loved one, particularly a parent, develops the need for assistance. Because most family caregivers don’t have specialized training, caregiving can be an enormous—and stressful—job.
Caregivers are responsible for a range of jobs, including grocery shopping, cleaning, scheduling and transportation for medical visits, and even assisting with basic needs such as dressing and bathing. The most important thing for family caregivers is to acknowledge the challenge, and set realistic expectations about what you can manage.
You may feel guilty, like you’re not doing enough, but it’s important to recognize that you can’t be everything. The fact that you signed on for the duty—and are providing companionship for your family member—speaks volumes.
Take Care of Yourself
Because of the challenge, it’s easy to get burned out or worse. In fact, depression is common among long-term caregivers. Even if you’re not depressed, you may be quite harried driving around to different appointments, managing schedules, and trying to keep up with your own family and work obligations.
The temptation may be to skip meals, or cut back on sleep, to get it all done, but if you run yourself ragged, you won’t be an effective caregiver. Take care of yourself first, so that you can then take care of your loved one. Above all else, be sure to eat well, exercise regularly and sleep 7-8 hours a night.
Tackle the Paperwork
When a loved one becomes ill, there are a number of responsibilities beyond everyday life. These tasks aren’t glamorous, but they are necessary. They include:
- Legal issues: Does your loved one have a will? Have they assigned power of attorney? Do they have an advanced directive?
- Health care issues: Who are their doctors? What is their official diagnosis? What is the schedule of medical visits?
- Financial issues: What type of insurance do they have? Are they on Medicare or Medicaid? What kind of savings do they have for long-term care?
It’s usually a good idea to have these conversations with elderly relatives before they become necessary, but once they are necessary, you really must talk about their finances and health care wishes so that you are respecting what they want and also arranging for the best care they can afford.
Know When to Ask for Help
Finally, there’s no shame in asking for help. Often, caregivers are grown children who may have their own work obligations and children to care for. If caregiving is becoming too big of a job, options include arranging for in-home care (either a private caregiver or through an agency) or moving the senior into an assisted living community.
While these decisions are never easy, those conversations about finances and health care wishes will help guide the process so you can select the right care for your loved one.