What is a Family Caregiver?

A family caregiver is an unpaid person who cares for relatives or loved ones. They may be caring for members of their family, close friends or neighbors. At some point in our lives most of us will become a family caregiver. Your caregiving journey may be due to a sudden accident or perhaps an illness that has reached the point that your care is needed. Whatever the case may be, the road ahead for you, the caregiver, and your loved one will be smoother if you understand the basics of good caregiving.

Three Rules for Being a Good Caregiver

A family caregiver is an unpaid person who cares for relatives or loved ones. They may be caring for members of their family, close friends or neighbors.
At some point in our lives most of us will become a family caregiver. Your caregiving journey may be due to a sudden accident or perhaps an illness that has reached the point that your care is needed. Whatever the case may be, the road ahead for you, the caregiver, and your loved one will be smoother if you understand the basics of good caregiving.

1. Ask for Help

The best thing you can do for both your loved one and yourself is to recognize that you need help. You do not and should not have to do this alone. Establishing a strong support network that you can rely and accessing existing community resources such as respite care and support groups will allow you to take care of yourself, so you can be a better caregiver. A caregiver suffering from burnout runs the risk of becoming ill themselves and being unable to provide care.

Sources of Help

Family, friends and neighbors almost always have a desire to help, but don’t know what to do. Ask them to do specific things to help you. From simple tasks like preparing your mom’s favorite meal to light housekeeping or sitting with your loved one for an hour or two while you run to the store or take a walk in the park, every little bit helps and will allow you to place your attention where it is needed most.

Don’t push family and friends and their offers of help away. Chances are, at first, that you will be able to handle everything on your own, but that will change and when it does, having an established group of helpers will make all the difference in the world. Seek help and make them a part of the caregiving from the start. Caregiving is one of the most loving gifts that one can give. You will grow, and love more than you ever thought you could and your family and friends deserve to experience this with you. Don’t deprive them by not asking for help.

There are many programs available to caregivers from government agencies and not-for-profit entities. The key is to learn how to navigate the system so that you can determine what help is available and then figure out how to get it. For more information on the wide array of services and programs available check out our Resource Directory where you will find a list of local agencies with phone numbers and links to websites. If you prefer, you can also call the Senior Connection Center at 866-96-ELDER (35337) to speak with a trained Referral Specialist who can assist you in finding available programs and services in Polk County.

During times of need there is no better place to find comfort than your church or synagogue. Religious organizations are perhaps one of the largest providers of help in the community. From spiritual and emotional guidance to volunteers that provide companionship, food, caregiver relief and sometimes even financial assistance, many of your needs as a caregiver can be found at local churches and synagogues. Call your church or synagogue to see what services are available. They, and you, will be glad you did.

2. Take Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself is, perhaps, the most important thing you can do as a caregiver. It is understandably difficult to make the time for self-care when you are trying to meet your loved one’s needs, but a burned out and sick caregiver doesn’t do anyone any good. At the bare minimum, do the following to take care of yourself (this is where that help from family and friends comes in!):

  • Get enough sleep: Sleep is a very important part of good health. Just like a new mother does, sleep when your loved one sleeps. Even if the sleep is sporadic, it is better than not sleeping at all.
  • Eat right & take your vitamins: Just like an athlete you must fuel your body with the right foods and nutrients to compete, and in your case, to provide care. It makes a bigger difference in your ability to cope with the physical demands and stress that caregiving brings than you might think.
  • Get physical exercise: Find 15-30 minutes a day for some form of physical exercise. You may wonder how, as tired you are, you will find the strength to exercise, but he fact is that moderate exercise will do wonders for giving you more energy, reducing stress and improving your overall health. Find some form of exercise that you like. Even just a walk around the park or neighborhood with your loved one will provide benefit and the fresh air will do you both some good!
  • Find an activity: Do something for enjoyment. What activities make you happy. Reading, yoga, crosswords, gardening and crocheting are all great things to do by yourself at home while you are taking care of your loved one. Also take a short outing or have lunch with a friend occasionally.
  • Care for your own physical health: You may be so preoccupied with your loved one’s health, that you forget about your own. Get regular check-ups and get your mammogram or prostate screenings. If you are on medications yourself, don’t forget to take them and monitor your own health.
  • Talk to other caregivers: There are many wonderful groups both online and in person where you can share, laugh and give support.

3. Educate yourself about…

How to give care: Take caregiving training if available. This will prepare you for what you need to know and how you should provide care in all aspects of caregiving.

Financial matters: Understand insurance, Medicare and Medicaid issues, and know about the care recipient’s finances, if relevant. Maintain good financial records. Consider hiring an elder law attorney, accountant or financial advisor if you do not understand the money end of caring. Look at protecting assets long term so that you can keep caring for your loved one.

Legal issues: Hire an elder law attorney to deal with wills and estate plans, durable powers of attorney, advance directives, Medicaid planning issues, protection of assets and much more.

You are a great gift to the person you are caring for and you don’t have to be perfect. “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” Your house does not have to be spotless, and those comfy sweats are just fine. Cherish the time you have with your loved one and the privilege you have of giving them the greatest gift of love one could ever receive through your love and care.

For more information and resources related to Family Caregiving browse our Resource Directory here.