If you are a beginning caregiver or client, you are about to embark on a big challenge. Even with this big change ahead, it is important to know that you are not alone. You will be joining the millions of people who live as caregivers or as clients. Thankfully, the good news is that there are support and resources for both of you.
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Caregivers can be family, friends, relatives, or professionals. As people age and need more help, it is not unusual for caregivers themselves to be older. In some other cases, caregivers are grandchildren or nieces and nephews entering a caregiving world they may have never imagined. Here are some tips for everyone starting off.
Tips for Beginner Caregivers
Beginning caregivers can include anyone. Whether you are helping an aging parent pick up their prescriptions or advocating with their healthcare providers, you have started caregiving.
The experience can seem overwhelming at first, but hopefully, these tips can help start you on a path toward a fulfilling caregiving experience.
1. Get your ducks in a row
As a caregiver, your support is only as effective as your ability and authority to advocate for the person you are taking care of. Advocacy takes many forms and due to privacy regulations, your efforts may be constrained without this authority.
Some advocacy tasks you may not have thought of as a caregiver include the following:
- Attending medical appointments
- Accessing medical records
- Calling healthcare providers to ask questions or give information
- Setting up home care services
- Arranging for medication changes, pick up or delivery
- Bill paying and other financial management
If you haven’t already, now is the time to talk with an aging adult about advance directives, a trusted decision-maker form, and end-of-life planning. These conversations may be difficult or awkward at first, but you will both be glad you did. Having these documents in place will make you a better caregiver. And it is always good to remember that they can always be changed later.
2. Identify caregiving tasks
Identifying tasks is important because it gives you an objective perspective on what your responsibilities are. The best way to this is to simply write them down. If your client or family member’s needs change over time, you will have a comparative narrative of decline or improvement for a set range with descriptions. This exercise also gives you a foundation of information for other healthcare providers who may need to assist in care later.
As a caregiver, tasks can mount. By spelling out these caregiving duties, you can more clearly pinpoint areas where you can arrange for or ask for help. Don’t forget to include small things like picking up prescriptions, grocery shopping, and cooking. These caregiver tasks also take time and effort and can be more easily delegated to other family members if needed.
3. Build support
Building support before you need it reduces the stress of making decisions during a crisis. A foundation of support is the bedrock of healthy, effective, and safe caregiving.
- Seek out caregiver support groups and forums. These groups and forums can provide valuable advice and how-to videos on hands-on caregiving techniques.
- If you have family in the area, keep them informed and start early by asking for their support. The longer you wait, the more likely it is that your requests will be seen as an imposition.
- You may want to start a list of good caregiver support services such as home care companies, home health, and assisted living communities. That way you will have already taken the time to investigate the best and most appropriate companies when you need them.
4. Prepare for change
Your caregiving journey may have started slowly or happened abruptly in response to a crisis. Either way, things may not stay the same. They could get better, or they could get worse. If you are taking care of someone with dementia and/or chronic medical conditions, there may be a decline. Thinking about this ahead of time will set the stage for a calmer and safer transition to increased care.
Some considerations to keep in mind are:
- Home accessibility. An inaccessible home can make caregiving much more difficult and dangerous. Think ahead about some simple modifications like grab bars in the bathroom, a walk-in shower, and how stairs impact mobility.
- Durable medical equipment. Durable medical equipment is any medical equipment that improves safety, mobility, and quality of life. Some of the pieces of equipment you may be most familiar with are wheelchairs, walkers, glucose monitors, and C-PAP machines.
- Caregiver duties. When the person you are caring for has increased needs, that means more caregiver duties for you. This can be one of the most challenging and heart-wrenching circumstances to deal with. At what point is it too much? How can you avoid caregiver burnout? When do you ask for professional help?
5. Take care of yourself
As a beginning caregiver, you may have energy, focus, and commitment to your loved one. These are admirable and desirable traits. With time, caregiving can take an emotional and physical toll.
Establishing good self-care routines at the beginning of the caregiving process will serve you well later. Good sleep, balanced nutrition, relaxation techniques, alone time and social engagement are all positive habits. If you are sick and tired, you won’t be the kind of caregiver you want to be.
Tips for New Caregiving Clients
Few people like being dependent on another person. A caregiving relationship at its core is not equal. Nevertheless, as a new caregiving client, you are in charge. Regardless of the level of care you are receiving, you are an independent and autonomous decision-maker who has the right to make changes. Our tips will help you advocate for yourself while keeping a positive attitude.
6. Express your needs
Sometimes the client gets lost in the caregiving equation. Whether you are a family or professional caregiver or another healthcare provider, your goal is to provide and improve care. As the recipient of that care, you may feel invisible.
Although this may be uncomfortable at first, practice expressing your needs. One way to consider organizing your thoughts is to write them down first. Don’t leave anything out.
Some suggestions on what to think about as a client:
- If you will be receiving professional caregiving, do you prefer someone of a certain gender? What kind of personality style is best for you- more outgoing or quiet? Are privacy concerns important to you and what do those entail? If you don’t like a particular caregiver, make a request that they are changed.
- For family caregiving, think about what tasks you would prefer to do on your own. Again, privacy may be important. For example, perhaps you prefer going to the toilet yourself but asking for help if you need it.
- Don’t be afraid to get specific about dietary needs.
- Busy caregivers can be forgiven for forgetting about social and leisure needs. Let your caregiver know what quality of life issues are important to you. Perhaps you enjoy going outside every day or getting out in nature. Maybe playing cards, putting together puzzles, or simply talking gives you joy.
7. Develop a plan
If you don’t develop a plan, chances are someone else is already doing it for you. With that in mind, think about what kind of environment is important to you and what you want to keep should you have to make a change. Are you willing to consider assisted living or some other congregate housing situation?
Review your advance directives and end-of-life wishes and make sure you are satisfied. If not, don’t hesitate to change them to more accurately reflect your current circumstances.
8. Communicate consistently
Misunderstandings can occur without consistent communication and decisions are made based on those misunderstandings.
If necessary, consider asking for regular meetings to discuss how caregiving is going, from both perspectives. Be ready with suggestions and changes. It may help your cause to be kind and caring, but firm.
9. Empower yourself
As the client, you are the decision-maker. It is easy to fall victim to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. Empower yourself by:
- Asking for guidance on how to do some things on your own with supervision.
- Working with your healthcare team on steps you can make towards improvement, no matter how small.
- Using positive affirmations to stay optimistic.
10. Have a back-up strategy for healthcare
Clients and patients are reluctant to question the authority of healthcare providers. However, if you are unsatisfied with a company or any of your physicians, you have the right to change. That prospect may seem intimidating at first, but if you take the time to find someone that resonates with you, your experience will be more productive.
You can also join support groups and learn about your health conditions. An important part of healthcare advocacy is knowledge. The education and information you gain might help your caregiver and gives you more credibility with your other healthcare providers.
Caregivers and Clients in the Same Boat
Caregiving should be a collaborative partnership of mutual respect and trust. Caregiver and client preparation provides the foundation for a safe, caring, and trusting relationship. If both parties listen to one another and have a flexible attitude, the experience will be a positive one.
If you're a new caregiver and looking for more help, read our guide on free caregiver resources.