Caregiving can take many forms. You may not even identify as a caregiver at first. A “Caregiver” is anyone who supports another person physically, financially, or emotionally. In the case of aging loved ones, you may become a “caregiver” inadvertently, as routine “check ins” turn into running errands, tending to household tasks, and other duties to ensure your loved one has what they need and are safe. Sometimes one is thrown into caregiving suddenly because of a medical incident or injury to their loved one that suddenly limits their ability to function on their own.
As people live longer and prefer to age in place, more and more individuals find themselves supporting aging loved ones. As a caregiver for an aging adult in today’s world, you’re likely to face new tasks that you are unfamiliar with, and no training manual comes with it.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a caregiving role unexpectedly or even knowingly?
- Set Boundaries- Be realistic about how much of your time and energy you can expend taking care of your loved one. Many caregivers have jobs, and family members other than their aging loved one to care for. It is important to set clear limits, and communicate them to your loved one and other family members.
- Seek Support- Ask family or friends to take on specific tasks to ease the burden. If you don’t have local family support, seek help from churches, caregiver support groups, or the local area agency on aging.
- Nurture the relationship- It is easy for your familial relationship to get lost in the new roles of caregiver and person needing care. Set aside time to enjoy activities together that nurture your relationship and keep you feeling connected to your loved one in a positive way.
- Take care of yourself- Carve out time for self care so that you do not feel too overwhelmed or like you have lost yourself in caregiving. Exercise, read, meditate, stay social, get adequate sleep. It is important to maintain a balance in your life.
- Acknowledge and process your feelings- Don’t be afraid to engage in counseling or therapy to work through your feelings on being a caregiver. Many caregivers feel a variety of feelings including anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation, and even grief.
If caregiving begins to become too overwhelming and you find you cannot balance it with other areas of your life, you may want to consider bringing in outside resources to help. For example, you can enlist services through the area agency on aging such as meals on wheels or transportation services to ensure that your loved one is getting a hot meal and can get to and from doctor’s appointments. You may also want to consider utilizing an adult day care center or home health services to provide support to your loved one while you work. If your loved one has medical needs that you don’t feel you can manage on your own, finding a nurse care manager may be ideal.
Unfortunately, humans are not generally the best at planning ahead for situations like family caregiving. Like planning for any emergency, setting up a plan before your loved one is in need of care is a good way to ensure that when the time comes, both you and your loved one are ready for it and know what to do and can take a lot of the stress out of the process.
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.