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Is Being a Caregiver Right for You?

When caring for aging parents, many adult children have to decide between becoming their loved ones’ primary caregiver or hiring outside support. According to the Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults, more than half of adults will receive a family caregiver’s help because of health problems or functional limitations by the time they reach 85 years old. 

What Is a Caregiver? 

There are different types of caregivers, but the most common are informal and formal caregivers. Informal caregivers are unpaid individuals, often a spouse, family members, friends, or neighbors who provide support for their loved ones. Formal caregivers are paid care providers who provide support in an individual’s home or a care setting such as a residential facility or long-term care facility. For many primary caregivers, the role can fall into place naturally, starting with small errands and leading up to a full-time commitment. 

What Does a Caregiver Do?

Depending on the individual, caregivers can play several different roles for their loved ones. Many caregivers act as an advocate for their loved ones when it comes to their emotional and physical wellness. Primary caregivers often find themselves navigating the social service system, scheduling doctor appointments, or coordinating outside care. While these tasks depend on the individual, here are some of the most common tasks caregivers handle, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance:

  • Buy groceries, cook, clean, do laundry and provide transportation.
  • Help their loved ones to bathe, get dressed, and take their medication.
  • Transfer someone out of a bed/chair and help with physical therapy.
  • Arrange medical appointments, drive to the doctor, and monitor medications.
  • Talk with doctors, nurses, care managers, and others to understand the care plan.
  • Spend time arranging assistance for those who cannot be left alone.
  • Handle finances and other legal matters.
  • Act as companion and friend. 

Common Caregiver Challenges 

Caregiving for a loved one requires a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, and energy. Along with the physical requirements of caregiving, those providing support also face the emotional challenge of watching their loved one’s health decline throughout the aging process. It’s important for them to stay aware of the challenges that come with the rolem so they can seek support when needed. 

  • Isolation. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel disconnected from their friends and family members. Caring for someone else can often cause caregivers to forget about their own needs and interests, or feel they don’t have time to pursue them, which can evoke feelings of isolation. However, caregivers who take care of themselves first have the energy to take care of their loved ones. 
  • Stress. Caregivers can often feel overwhelmed by the task of caring for another person. Managing medications, appointments, preparing meals, and finishing household tasks in addition to other life stressors can lead to caregiver burnout. Taking small breaks throughout the day to practice meditation or breathing exercises can help relieve stress, even if it’s just for a few minutes. 
  • Financial burden. Providing care for a loved one often means caregivers are forced to forgo other professional or educational opportunities. This financial burden can cause long-term stress, which is another contributing factor to caregiver burnout. Caregivers, especially those caring for a family member, should see if their loved one qualifies for disability benefits, and may consider seeking some financial support from other family members. 

Tips for New Caregivers 

If you’re new to the caregiving role, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of supporting your loved one. Over time, caregivers will learn how to naturally transition into the role. While caregiving can look different for each family and their loved ones, there are some tips new caregivers may find helpful.

Give yourself time to adjust. Transitioning into the role of caregiver may take some time for each individual. In addition to learning how to provide care, family caregivers are also adjusting to their loved one’s illness or loss of independence, which can be emotionally challenging.  

Take advantage of downtime. Many caregivers struggle with taking care of their responsibilities such as making doctor appointments, grocery shopping for their own family, or even doing things they personally enjoy. Caregivers should try to carve out time for themselves, even if it means asking family members for help or relying on respite care for a break. 

Practice time management. Experienced caregivers often recommend prioritizing tasks and accepting that not everything will be finished in a day. Labeling tasks using the categories “urgent,” “important,” and “can wait” will help you organize your day and complete tasks depending on their urgency. 

Create a support network. Caregivers must have support outside of their family members. This may be a group of friends, a licensed therapist, or a caregiver support group. Caregivers need to have an outlet to cope and communicate with those who can provide support and insight.  

Caregiver Readiness 

Deciding to become a caregiver to a loved one is not something to be taken lightly. While undoubtedly rewarding, it can be a huge strain on your life and the lives of your family members. Here are a few questions to consider as you define your role as a caregiver: 

  • Am I physically able to provide the needed assistance? Could I continue doing this work for weeks? Months? Years? Do I have physical limitations for the work involved?
  • Am I prepared to perform intimate caregiving chores like bathing and helping with toileting? 
  • Am I able to keep from getting upset and angry? Am I able to stay calm and treat family members with patience and kindness, even when I feel tired and overworked with the responsibilities of being a caregiver?)
  • Can I free my schedule to be available for caregiving duties when needed? 
  • Can I afford to reduce or stop working? Do I need to continue to work to meet my family’s and my current or future financial needs? 
  • Am I willing to reduce or neglect other obligations to give the care needed? If other people depend on me (children, etc.), can I find alternative care for my loved one  to free up my time to take care of others who also need me? 
  • Am I confident that other family relationships (e.g., with my spouse) won’t be negatively affected by the stress of caregiving? 
  • Do I have a list of contacts to ask for help when I need a break? Am I willing to ask for help if I need it? How will I protect myself from getting so involved that I never take a break or get help? 
  • Would I be willing to purchase care to supplement the care I can give? Do I have the financial resources to purchase supplemental care? Would I be willing to pay someone to help me provide the care that is needed? 
  • Do the people around me support me in my decision? Are they willing to share some of the responsibilities?  

If you answered “no” to 2 or more of these questions, it may be time to weigh alternative options to caregiving at home.

Caregiving at Maplewood Senior Living 

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how difficult it can be to assume the role of caregiver for a family member. Our knowledgeable staff of professionals understands and is here for you and your loved ones throughout the journey. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

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Westport, CT 06880

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