What It Is Really Like To Be a Caregiver
If you or someone you know is caring for a loved one, there can be many challenges they will have to face. Some are seen, but most are not. The feeling like things are totally out of control, is normal. If you or someone you love is in the role of caregiver, here are some things to keep in mind to make the process easier for all.
Being a caregiver means making tough decisions
Remember, you can do hard things. Like it or not, you will have to do hard things when caring for someone else. There will be many choices that come up, such as: what kind of medical care is needed, how to maintain quality of life, and then there are the decisions related to money. These choices can feel overwhelming and are not so easy to make. In some cases, the person receiving care may want to continue to be a part of some of these decisions, while in others, you may have to make the choices all on your own. This can put an undue burden on your emotions and confidence. Are you making the best decisions given the circumstances? What impacts long term will these decisions have?
If you are caregiving for someone who still has the mental acuity to help guide these decisions, now is the time to have these conversations. It is also time to prepare any legal documents required, so if the situation changes, you are still in a position to provide care. This includes finalizing wills, advanced directives, and important financial documents. Once there is a question of mental competence, all these decisions become increasingly difficult. Guardianship may have to be awarded, which can mean lost time and resources.
And while these conversations can be difficult, it is important to be brave enough to have them. Agreeing on a plan of action and determining priorities can help provide peace of mind to both the care receiver and caregiver. Including other family members or important people in this discussion can also help alleviate surprises later on. This way, everyone is on the same page and can focus their energy on what is important, actually providing care where needed.
Caregiving is not the same for young and old
Recognize that caring for an elderly loved one is not like caring for a child. When you are taking care of someone older, you must consider that they may be set in their ways. Oftentimes, they want to maintain some independence in their own care. Forcing them to do something they are uncomfortable with, but is needed, can be the biggest obstacle of all. In this case, take it slow. Explain the situation and ask them for their perspective. If they are unable to provide that for you, due to illness or mental decline, then make sure you are paying attention to their comfort level at every phase. Empathy and compassion are needed, while still doing what is best for them. Communication is key. Sometimes in our rush to help, we can forget to include the person who will be impacted the most. Don’t lose sight of that in the rush to get things figured out.
Caregivers need support too
Managing the care for someone else, while also making sure you are taking care of yourself, can weigh heavily on the person giving care. Stress can mount and start to impact the health of the caregiver. By getting support, you can take breaks and get that much-needed recharge, so that you don’t take your stress and frustration out on the person you are trying to care for. When friends and other family members ask how they can help, don’t assume they are just being polite. Take them up on the offer. Whether it is to make a meal for you or your family or to sit for a few hours with that loved one while you take a break; these can all be vital to your mental health and well being. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, it will be even more difficult to care for that other person.
Communication beyond the caregiver and care receiver
Be in communication with those people who will be impacted by your change in responsibilities. This includes your spouse, children, friends, colleagues, and employer. This isn’t about making excuses to them, but rather, making them so they are aware you have additional responsibilities to consider. If they know what is going on, they will be more likely to offer assistance when needed or to give you a break when they see you are at a breaking point. The more you are in communication, the more the people around you can have your back.
Finally, there will be ups and downs along the way. It is okay to not know all the answers. There could be times of discomfort, sadness, and even anger. Relationships can be strained and it can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Recognizing these emotions and processing them, rather than letting them pile up, is key to you maintaining a level of wellbeing. Talking to a professional can also help you process these feelings in a healthy way. And make sure you are giving yourself some grace and compassion too.
Caring for a loved one is not easy, but rewarding in many other ways. The joy you get by offering someone a sense of security and love can make up for all the tough times. Giving back to those who once cared for you can also provide a way for you to show how much they mean to you. Regardless of where you are, keeping some perspective and looking for the small joys can make all the difference.