How to Be a Supportive Caregiver of an Aging Adult: 10 Tips

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t a caregiver these days, in one way or another. As parents and grandparents age, families are faced with providing help and support to those they love and care about.

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Types of caregivers don’t necessarily fit one mold, with more young people being thrust into a role they may not have expected. People are caring for friends, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, spouses, and others, but more older adults require care than any other group.  

As you start or continue your caregiving journey, you may encounter caregiver duties you never expected nor know how to perform. Your personal life is turned upside down as you devote time, energy, and resources to caring for an aging adult. Frustration and caregiver burnout are common responses to the stress of caring for an older adult. Despite these challenges, learning how to be the most supportive caregiver you can be while still caring for yourself is the key to sustained and compassionate caregiving. 

What Qualities Make Up a Supportive Caregiver?

Support can mean different things to different people, which is part of the job of being a caregiver: figuring out what support means to the person you are caring for. The foundation of support is being present, aware, and responsive to the needs of your loved one. And there will be times when that support will be tested by frustration, fatigue, and stress. There will be days when you feel like the worst caregiver ever and other days when you feel satisfied that you have done your best. 

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Tips for Being a Supportive Caregiver of an Aging Adult

Being a supportive caregiver will require some focus and attention to detail as you go through the caregiving journey. Being a caregiver is a role of responsibility, honor, and commitment. Your support will waiver, which is normal, but correcting your course of action is important. Our tips for being a supportive caregiver will help you provide the best, safest, and most loving care possible.

Flexibility

Just when your caregiving situation stabilizes, and you feel like you are in control, things change. Suddenly you must adjust to the worsening of a medical condition or a decline in functioning. Managing healthcare appointments, medication changes, doctors and healthcare providers, and insurance complications can add to an already stressful situation.

Flexibility means accepting and expecting that your caregiving situation will change and evolve, and not always in predictable ways. Imagine how the older adult you are caring for feels. They are dependent on you and the decisions you make. If you are flexible, your loved one will appreciate the emotional stability you bring to the caregiving situation.

Respect 

It is easy to fall into a caregiver role that focuses solely on duties and tasks. You may find yourself becoming bossy and just needing to get things done! Remember that the person you care for is a competent adult with a lifetime of accomplishments and experiences. Showing respect means asking permission and involving the older adult in decisions. Respect is manifested in your tone of voice and attitude.

Patience

As a caregiver, your patience will be tested. Expect this, but how you respond to frustration will significantly impact the caregiving experience for both of you. Taking deep breaths and thinking before you speak are two effective strategies. Also, if you are impatient, you may make regrettable decisions. You will learn to evaluate situations as they arise and learn not to react to each change as a crisis. Support your loved one by staying patient and focused. 

Compassion

Compassion is the ability to understand and empathize with someone’s struggles. If you are an adult child of an aging adult who needs your help, that compassion will be strained as you navigate your emotions. It is difficult to be with an older adult who was once your rock and support, and it is also hard for them. One contradictory and baffling emotional response to caregiving can be a loss of compassion. Talking with a counselor about these feelings will help you identify the underlying causes.

Organization

Managing the care of an older adult can be like wearing multiple hats simultaneously. Tracking medical appointments, other caregivers, and keeping family members informed requires organizational ability. Your loved one will depend on you to keep the chaos to a minimum. People use various online tools and other tools to help them stay organized while including family in decisions.

Encouragement

Encouragement is always appropriate if an older adult is recovering from surgery or is in decline due to a medical condition or dementia. Without giving false hope, encouragement gives someone confidence to improve their situation. Phrases such as, “You are trying so hard, and it shows,” “I know how difficult this is for you,” and “I know you can improve, and I am here to help you,” are examples of words of encouragement.

Self-care

You’ve heard it before. Taking care of yourself makes you a healthier and more supportive caregiver. Self-care at its core involves getting enough rest, eating well, exercising, taking time for yourself, and, very importantly, asking for help. Reaching out to others for help might be one of the more challenging aspects of caregiving, but once you do it, your stress level will stay manageable. Delegate tasks to others with specific details, and allow them to support you.

Attention

Attention requires awareness and focus on the emotional and physical details of caregiving. To be a supportive caregiver, you will want to attend to the circumstances of your loved one in a way that responds to their specific caregiving needs. Multi-tasking is a part of caregiving, and dividing your attention will require a nimble attention span. 

Resources

No caregiver can do everything alone. You can try, but your stress level will soar. Resources are a broad category of educational and support services. The more you know about your loved one’s condition, prognosis, and care requirements, the more supportive you can be. Many caregivers find that when they face caregiving duties, it is a good time to take stock of end-of-life wishes, healthcare, and financial power of attorney. 

Counseling

Seeking help for caregiving stress, grief, and emotional conflicts is an act of strength. Counseling can be an effective way to develop healthy coping skills and come to terms with contentious feelings. Caregiving can bring up unexpected and stressful relationship issues. Having someone to talk to that can guide you through your emotions can be a significant asset as you seek to become a more supportive caregiver.

Behaviors to Avoid If You’re Looking to Be a Supportive Caregiver

As a caregiver, you aren’t perfect; mistakes will happen, and so will regrets. An apology for unsupportive behavior is always a good plan. All you can do is move forward and learn from your mistakes. Look out for these behaviors and the emotions that give rise to them.

Resentment

Resentment may be one of the more common emotional responses to caregiving. You are giving your time and energy, which impacts your relationships, your job, your health, and any goals you had for the future. Caregiving can feel like a sudden halt in the progression of your life, and resentment can build as the burden of caregiving increases. Acknowledge the feeling but try not to let it affect your behavior. 

Anger

Anger can often result from resentment, or it can arise due to the complexity of caregiving duties and the stress of coping with someone who is not always cooperative. Anger can be an ugly emotion, and expressing it during caregiving should always be avoided. The person you are caring for can be hurt in immeasurable ways, and you don’t want to permanently damage your relationship.

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Controlling 

Caregiving and control can sometimes go hand in hand. In one way, control is how you get things done as a caregiver. When your loved one won’t comply with what you want them to do, trying to control them should be avoided. A more supportive tactic is to involve your loved one in decisions and respect their right to refuse. You can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do, and continuing to pressure them will only compromise your relationship.

Self-destructive behavior

Self-destructive behavior can start to creep into your caregiving experience. Using alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress of caregiving will only damage your health and make you a less supportive caregiver. Self-destructive behavior also extends to your other relationships which may suffer from the stress of caregiving. Pushing people away or getting angry is unhealthy.

Hopelessness

Caregiving can be infused with grief and loss. Those emotions are expected, but try not to let a feeling of hopelessness affect your caregiving. Your loved one is struggling with the same emotions, and they need you to be strong. Try not to allow your negative feelings to affect your caregiving. 

Threats

Threats are the intention or perceived intention to inflict harm, and they’re hostile actions. An example would be threatening a loved one with nursing home placement if they don’t comply or agree to a request. Threats are inherently intimidating. Reaching consensus or accepting that you can’t control another person is hard, but in the end, people make their choices, and all you can do is try to explain the consequences. 

Taking on too much

Assuming all of the responsibility of caregiving is not only stressful, but it also isn’t effective. It can get messy involving other family members, but it is the right thing to do. Depending on your loved one’s situation, their medical needs could be complex. Trying to perform medical tasks that you aren’t capable of managing can be dangerous. The better option is to arrange for medical support in the home.

Being a Supportive Caregiver of an Aging Adult

Caregiving is something almost everyone will do at some point in their lives. How you manage your unique situation depends on how prepared you are for the journey. Support for yourself and your loved one will ebb and flow, but as long as you come back to being the most supportive caregiver you can, your journey will be immensely satisfying. 

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