Being a caregiver can take many forms. For some it means tending to a loved one at home themselves, for others it means hiring an in-home aid, and for still others a retirement home or assisted living community. There are innumerable ways to approach caregiving, varying with income, medical conditions, physical and mental ability, time, and the number of family members or professionals involved. Anyone can be a caregiver, from wealthy celebrities to everyday Joes working multiple jobs. What unites all caregivers across these differences is the compassion, empathy, and effort that comes with taking care of a loved one. There are several ways that you can make your unique approach to caregiving more effective, no matter the specifics:
- Emphasize communication. Of course you want to be clear and transparent with your loved one about meeting their needs and how they feel day to day. But you also want to fully understand physicians and outpatient providers, in-home aids, assisted living professionals, insurance agents, lawyers, and anyone else involved in managing your loved one’s affairs. Ask any questions you might have, no matter how ridiculous or basic they may seem. The more you know the more you can advocate for your loved one and act quickly when needed.
- Turn a negative into a positive when you feel like caregiving is a second (or third, or fourth!) job. You might be wearing a lot of hats already as a mother or father, wife or husband, employee or volunteer. But if you approach caregiving consciously aware of the skills you already use every day at work or at home, you’ll realize you’re more on top of things than you thought. Apply the delegation and scheduling skills you use at work to finding the right therapists and aids, or to develop regular medication management. Apply your meal planning skills to addressing unique dietary needs, such as avoiding Vitamin K for a husband or parent who takes Coumadin. You’ll find you’re better prepared than you thought!
- Always try to be encouraging. It can be easy to get frustrated as a caregiver, both with yourself, the situation, and the person you love. Focus on the positive, from your loved one’s abilities and daily triumphs to your own successes as a caregiver. Encouragement can also come in the form of urging your loved one to exercise more or adhere to new nutritional guidelines like low salt intake. You might even want to encourage yourself by offering yourself treats after big hurdles or simply scheduling in downtime for your own hobbies and peace of mind. By focusing on the good, pleasant, and fun things about caregiving, you won’t sweat the tough and negative as much.
No matter what caregiving looks like in your family, these tips will help you excel, and better balance your new role with the rest of your life. While change (even positive change) can be stressful, the right mindset and preparation can work magic both emotionally and practically.
Written by Meghan O'Dea