At some point in our lives, we’re called on to provide care for those we love. The caregiving can be short term — such as after a hospital stay — or long term, such as caring for an aging parent or someone with a chronic illness.
Regardless of the time frame, if you’re new to caregiving, you may not know where to start. Follow these seven tips as you embark on your role as a caregiver.
Learn to be a caregiver
Caring for a loved one isn’t as simple as taking them to doctor’s appointments or moving them into your home. There are legal, financial and emotional implications to consider — for you and for your loved one. You can use the following free resources to help you throughout your caregiving journey:
- AARP’s Family Caregiving (www.aarp.org/caregiving or 1-877-333-5885)
- The National Alliance for Caregiving (caregiving.org/resources)
- The Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) Learning Center (caregiver.org).
The FCA also offers classes, teleconferences and tip sheets on caring for various medical conditions.
Start with a discussion
Some people, worried they’ll lose control over their freedom or dignity, can resist caregiving. Having key conversations with your loved one about their needs and wants helps them feel in control over what can be an overwhelming situation. For example, do they want to live in their own home as long as possible? Or are they open to moving in with you or to an assisted living facility? It also means being honest about your caregiving abilities and physical and financial limitations. Needs can change as someone ages, or their medical condition worsens, so keep the lines of communication open. If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, have these caregiving discussions early and get their wishes in writing.
Get legal paperwork in order
Under health privacy laws (HIPAA), doctors and health plans may not be able to share information with you about your loved one. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging (ABA) recommends having a healthcare power of attorney. This legal document allows current and future healthcare providers to speak with you directly. It also allows you to make healthcare decisions on your loved one’s behalf should they become physically or mentally incapacitated. The ABA offers a free online Health Care Advance Planning Packet.
Set up your home for caregiving
Your home may need some modifications to allow you to care for someone who is older or has physical limitations. Make sure your home allows your loved one to be as independent as possible, while also helping them avoid falls. A doctor or pharmacist can recommend durable medical equipment, including toilet boosters, walkers and scooters. Medicare covers 80% of the cost of such equipment if you have a doctor’s prescription for it, so ask their doctor before buying anything.
Manage and review their medications
Fifty-four percent of adults age 65 and older take four or more prescription drugs, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Often, medication instructions can be confusing even to the patient. If you’re helping them take their medication, you need to know the following:
- Why they’re taking the medication
- Their dosing schedule and when/if they need refills
- Any special instructions, such as taking the medication with food or an empty stomach
- Common and rare side effects, and what should you do about them.
Caregiving doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. Quality time with your loved one can get lost in the daily shuffle. Consider outsourcing caregiving tasks that don’t add to quality time, such as housekeeping or grocery shopping. The U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator provides local resources for older adults and their families. Your loved one may be eligible for a home health aide or free transportation to medical appointments. You can reach the service at eldercare.acl.gov or at 1-800-677-1116.
Take care of yourself first
Caregiving can be rewarding. It can also lead to burnout. To take the best care of your loved one, you have to manage your own caregiver stress. Make sure you’re eating healthy, getting enough sleep and finding time for exercise and relaxing activities. To help you cope emotionally, consider joining a caregiver support group, like the one through Family Caregiver Alliance.