23 Tips for New Caregivers
Advice from 12 Fellow Caregivers
Suddenly becoming a caregiver for someone can be, quite frankly, one of the most challenging and frightening experiences in life. You're suddenly responsible for the livelihood of someone else that may not be able to fend for themselves. The role comes with many responsibilities that can cause caregiver burnout, something we often hear of and talk about in the caregiver community.
The life of a caregiver is a challenging one. Statistics show that 6 out of 10 are employed with nearly half working full time. What's more, 46% of caregivers feel they have too much to handle, while 42% don't have enough time for themselves. The first steps as a new caregiver are critical. The transition into this position can be challenging. For this reason, we asked 15 elderly caregivers, family caregivers, personal caregivers, and professional caregivers to offer their top caregiver tips for those new to the role.
Make your self-care a priority to reduce caregiver stress
Self-care for caregivers is a necessity to stay sane, happy, and healthy. You must take care of yourself. Otherwise, you risk the chance of developing caregiver burnout (also known as caregiver fatigue). Self-care is the best method of caregiver burnout prevention. These tips below offer actionable advice for staying on top of your self-care for better health and wellness.
#1. Make it a Routine and Block off Time
Co-Founder & CEO of The CareSide
"The key is to make it a routine and block off that time each week, so it's a priority. To care for someone else, you first need to take care of yourself. So you shouldn't feel guilty for devoting time to focus on yourself. Otherwise, you're going to get burned out physically or mentally."
#2. Make Time Inbetween Caregiving Duties
"Make sure you take care of yourself throughout the day by drinking enough water, eating healthy foods, and, when possible, meditating for 10-15 minutes once or twice during your shift. When you get home, be sure to get some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes, write out your feelings in a journal or computer (or find someone you can talk to about your day as a way to decompress)."
#3. Make Sure You Have a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Co-Founder and Senior Editor of The Senior List
"It's also important for caregivers to have a sense of balance in their lives. Whether that means taking a mini-vacation, scheduling weekly "me time," or having a relief caregiver step in occasionally (without guilt!), caregivers must maintain their own physical and mental health for the caregiving role to be sustainable."
#4. Don't Let Caregiver Guilt Keep You From Taking Breaks
"It's okay to need a break. You might be caring for someone who is terminally ill and be afraid to leave their side. Still, the painful reality is that the person you are caring for will not be with you forever. If your entire life revolves primarily around them, you will be lost when they are gone. They don't truly want that for you, regardless of how tightly they might cling at times. You need to make sure you maintain a life you want to keep living when they no longer need you. Make sure you are socializing outside of your caregiving. Take long weekends off and go on vacation. Give the person you are caring for some variety, too."
#5. Don't be Afraid to Say "No"
FOUNDER & CEO OF MAVENS & MOGULS
"Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no, I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. You can fill a calendar to stay busy, but what matters most is having an impact on people's lives, and that has nothing to do with the volume of activity; it is about touching people in meaningful ways, which may mean being less busy not more."
#6. Keep an Eye Out for the Mental and PHysical Signs of Caregiver Burnout
"Burnout is one of the biggest challenges. Pay attention to your body and your mind/emotions, behavior. Don't want till you burn out to act. Symptoms to look for are headaches, body aches, GI distress. Emotions to watch out for include irritability, loss of temper, depression, increased anxiety. Behavioral changes include increased isolation, inability to focus, lack of concentration, feelings of guilt, helplessness."
Lay Out Ground Rules and Expectations
Every caregiving role is different based on the needs of the care recipient. Laying out and defining the rules and expectations in your caregiver role will make things easier and run smoothly.
#7. Create a Checklist of Caregiver Expectations
"Ask for a checklist of expectations for you as a caregiver, in advance of the meeting, in the event you have questions about it. Are you expected to cook for, clean up after, and/or bathe the patient? Change diapers? Administer medication? Are there dietary restrictions, food or medication allergies?"
Don't Make These Common Caregiving Mistakes
We asked expert caregivers to provide some insight into common caregiver mistakes and how to avoid them. These mistakes will help you avoid catastrophe and be the best caregiver you can be.READ THE MOST COMMON CAREGIVER MISTAKES
Do Your REsearch on Any Health Conditions
Perhaps one of the more stressful aspects of caregiving is keeping track of your care recipients' health. Researching will make sure they have everything they need and better prepare you for any health issues that may arise due to their condition. If needed, try taking caregiving training courses that correlate directly with your care recipient's needs.
#8. Educate Yourself on Any Healthcare Issues
"Do as much research as you can about whatever healthcare issues your patient has, to include how to care for them."
#9. Make Sure You KNow About Any Allergies
"Double check their medical records and especially medications that they are allergic to. You will need to become their advocate, and if they change or add doctors in the future, you will need to ensure that they are not given medication that they are allergic to."
Learn Everything Needed to be a Good Caregiver
Our Ultimate Guide to Caregiving goes in depth into everything needed to be a good caregiver including:
- Typical Caregiver Duties
- Essential Caregiving Skills that are Needed
- In-Home Factors to Consider
- Self-Care for Caregivers and Signs of Burnout
- And More!
Remember that You are Human
As a caregiver, you will make mistakes. It's a part of the role. Understanding this and coping the right way will reduce the pressure to be perfect. There can be a never-ending list of caregiving responsibilities that cause caregiver role strain. Caregiver strain is almost a fact of the role, but self-induced stress should not.
#10. Don't Be too Hard on Yourself
"You will get overwhelmed at times. Although the main focus might seem to be the incapacitated person's well-being, there are many other experiences and changes to the process. If you feel like it's too much, it probably is. You will often be taking on additional physical care, emotional support, household chores, financial management, insurance filings, coordination of benefits, medication monitoring, and more. That's on a typical day, not one where a device breaks, power goes out, or something else unexpected happens. You didn't do anything wrong. You're probably doing an amazing job, especially under the circumstances you've been given."
#11. Focus on What's in Your Control
"It's important to focus on what you can control and not what you can't control. Caregiving regularly reminds you that you have limited control over things like your loved one's condition, treatment, or prognosis. As if that wasn't enough, things like the current COVID-19 crisis may make you feel as if life itself has spun out of your hands. Despite such uncertain circumstances, your sustained efforts to address things you can control will allow you and your loved one to lead the best lives possible at the present time."
#12. Have a "Go-To" Person to Vent to About Challenges and Struggles
"Identify a person you trust that you can speak with regularly where you can talk about the challenges and good moments that arise in your role as a caregiver. If nobody is readily available, there are chat rooms online that offer lots of groups giving caregivers support."
#13. Join Caregiver Support Groups
"You may be the only one among your family and friends taking on a caregiver role, but you are certainly not alone as so many around the world are doing this. Facebook groups can be both a wonderful resource and a place to vent without judgment."
Create Your Caregiving Plan
Being a great planner is one of the best caregiver skills you can have. Creating that initial plan will help guide you through your role and alleviate some of the stress and confusion you may have. Out of all the caregiver resources to have, a plan may be the most significant one.
#14. Don't Wait to Find Caregiver Support; Create a Team with Your Checklist of Needs
Regional Coordinator for Education and Training Services at the Caregiver Support Initiative
"Create a strong care team. Do not wait to be overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out to start asking others for help. Find a network of people that you can rely on to help you. This can include friends, family members, neighbors, and people from any communities you are a part of, including religious communities.
Have a list of things you may need help with on hand so that when someone says, 'Is there anything I can do to help?' you have an answer. Some ideas to consider including on your list are personal care, cleaning, yard work, cooking, shopping, and running errands, managing the finances, and researching care. The possibilities are endless! Creating a care team will allow you, as the primary caregiver, to take some time for yourself and not be overburdened. Sometimes caregivers feel guilty asking for help or taking a break, but you need to take care of yourself so that you can take the best possible care of your loved one."
#15. Plan for "What Ifs" Before they Happen
"Start the caregiver conversation before your loved one is sick. You want them to be healthy and alert when you have this discussion. You don't want to wait until there is a crisis or they can't communicate to understand what their wishes regarding their care are. It is one of the greatest gifts they can give you. Knowing their wishes alleviates a huge burden for caregivers."
#16. Gather Important Documents You May Need
"Keep many copies of the POA (power of attorney) on hand as you will need to mail (if you don't have a fax machine) out to the different places to notify them that you are taking on this role. Keep copies of all essential documents (power of attorney, advance directive, trust, will, etc.) in a file on Dropbox or similar in case you need to access it on the go. If you have not yet already discussed what their after-death wishes are (cremation, burial, organ donation, etc.), this should be done in writing, so their wishes are carried out as planned so that there is no confusion among the living."
#17. Have an Up-to-Date Estate Plan with all Essential Details
Mary Kate D'Souza
Chief Legal Officer of Gentreo
"Make sure that the person for whom you are providing care is protected by having an up-to-date estate plan consisting of a minimum of a health care proxy; financial power of attorney and will. It is crucial for those who have been recently diagnosed with illnesses that may impact their capacity. By having these essential estate planning documents up to date, you save your estate from unnecessary legal and court costs and, more importantly, give yourself and your loved one's peace of mind. By appointing a health care and a financial agent, you ensure that someone you trust will make your healthcare and financial decisions when you are unable to. In addition to having estate planning documents, you need to have them stored in a secure but accessible location that your fiduciaries can easily access."
#18. Have Your Family Member Add You to Their Bank Accounts
"Assuming there is a trusted relationship between you and the family member, get added as a signer on your loved one's checking account. This will make it much easier for you to pay bills for your loved one. I had a situation where a loved one paid her bills by check only, and we weren't on her account. When she got too ill to write checks, we had difficulty paying basic bills like utilities. We paid them from our accounts until we figured out a way, but not everyone can float a loved one's personal expenses. If you can access their bank accounts, you can ensure that mortgages, utilities, and other expenses continue to get paid while he/she is ill."
#19. Research and Have a Nursing Home as Backup
Registered Practical Nurse and Care Coordinator at C-Care Health Services
"Look into the nearest homes or health care centers way in advance so you can plan accordingly in case of an emergency. Doing so can keep you organized, alleviate the stress and manage taking care of the person the best way you can."
#20. Consider Having Their Mail Forwarded to You
"If your loved one is not in his/her home, consider having the mail forwarded to your home. That way, you can see the bills sooner and take care of any issues that come via the mail. At first, we were driving to our loved one's home every week to pick up the mail, which became time-consuming. Once we set up mail forwarding, it became much easier to manage her personal matters."
Don't Forget to Keep YOur Care Recipient Involved
The caregiver role requires a lot of selflessness. While this can be overwhelming, one must be careful not to become too intertwined with their emotions. This can cause you to start treating your role as more of a job, forgetting that your care recipient needs to be heard.
#21. Make Sure They Have a Sense of Self and Purpose
"Meaning and Purpose is a basic human need. Assist a loved one side-by-side to pay bills, catch up on email, make a meal. Allow them to take part in feeling a sense of self and purpose."
#22. Always Keep Their Best Interests Top of Mind
"Keep in mind if you are making decisions in their best interest or if you think it's in their best interest. If you're not sure, ASK!"
#23. Take Advantage of Technology to Keep Them Connected and Safe
Founder of AgeSpace.org
"While the pandemic has resulted in many negatives for older people, the generational advancement in terms of technology shouldn't be ignored. Now is the time for families to embrace this new eagerness to learn and use smart technology to help elderly relatives feel safe and connected in their own home. From personal alarms to video doorbells to artificial intelligence, there is likely to be a Smart Home solution. Many mobile apps can help ensure that all the family is in touch with and part of a relative's daily care. They can let you know about your relative's health, that they're taking their medication, what they've been getting up to, and much more."
Caregiving is not all difficulties, stress, and confusion. Becoming a caregiver can bring an abundance of memories, fulfillment, and love. Taking the right steps to make the role easier and smoother can offer comfort, security, and structure to a position that demands it.
About the Author
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.
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