Please enjoy this series showing the challenges facing caregivers at different stages in the caregiving process. The full credits for this article are at the bottom, thanks.
Stage 2: The Freshman Caregiver
I may starting to help an aging relative.
Who are you?
You have been helping an aging relative for a short time. Your duties range from errand-running and bill-paying to hands-on care.
Your keyword: Find
–Find services that help.
–Find support that comforts.
–Find ways to enjoy your hobbies and interest.
This is your entry into the caregiving role. This is your time to experiment, to get your feet wet and see what works. This is your opportunity to learn how the health care industry works with, or in some cases, against, you. Now is the time to shape your caregiving personality: What duties are you comfortable with? What duties make you uncomfortable? How well are you and your care recipient getting along? What situations would create overwhelming stresses for both of you? What situations should you try to avoid because you know they will lead to nasty fights and bitter arguments?
You’ll get a feel for the present and future budgets needed to provide the care your care recipient requires.
In addition, keep up with your hobbies and interests (you may be able only to keep the ones that you enjoy most), ensuring you have made a habit of spending time on your own, enjoying yourself.
As a “freshman caregiver”, what can you do?
1. Learn as much as you can about your care recipient’s illness, disease or condition.
Consult the local branches or chapters of national organizations such as The Arthritis Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, The Cancer Society. What does the future hold for you and your care recipient?
2. Learn how to provide proper care from health care professionals or from health care videos, manuals or books.
If your care recipient is hospitalized or receives short-term therapy at a nursing home, ask the staff to show you proper caregiving techniques: lifting, transfers, bathing. Or, search the Internet for hands-on care information.
It’s very difficult to provide care when you are unsure of what you’re doing. You’ll feel much better when you’re confident of your skills.
3. Join a support group–online or in your community.
It’s so isolating to be a caregiver! Support groups will hook you up with others in similar situations; often, you’ll learn of community resources and options from other caregivers that you were not aware of.
A Quick Tip:
Making a decision on behalf of an aging relative can be intimidating, causing you anxiety, guilt and confusion. You may be plagued by this thought: What is your responsibility?
Keep this in mind as you struggle to make the best decisions for an aging relative: You are responsible for providing a safe and healthy environment for your aging relative. That environment may be your care recipient’s home. It may be your home. Or, it may be the nursing home.
It may be helpful to break down the decision and determine: Where will my care recipient be safest? Where will she enjoy the healthiest environment? Sometimes the answers become clearer when we have a goal to work toward.
4. Count on regular breaks from caregiving.
You can’t be a good caregiver to someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Plan for regular breaks–an hour daily, an afternoon weekly, or a day monthly–whatever you can manage. Enlist the help of relatives and community services (such as a volunteer group at your local church) so you can take time off regularly. Relatives can help in many ways–through financial support, social support (calling the care recipient regularly just “to talk”), as well as respite support.
5. Rely on help from community organizations.
Meals on Wheels, home care agencies and day care centers, to name just a few, may offer services that your care recipient needs.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for a listing of services and organizations in your community. Visit your local medical equipment supply store to find devices and gadgets that enhance your care recipient’s abilities–and independence from you.
In addition, ask about local, state or federal programs that might provide financial assistance for you and/or your care recipient. As your care recipient’s care needs increase, so will the costs associated with his or her care. Understanding what programs can help, in addition to understanding what your care recipient can afford, will help you plan appropriately for the future.
6. Keep in mind what your care recipient’s wishes are.
If appropriate, ask for his or her input and ideas.
Does your care recipient still feel good about living at home? What does your care recipient fear or dread? (These are also good questions to ask yourself!)
7. Reflect the changes in your journal.
How do you feel now? What are your concerns? Fears? What outcomes are you working toward? What losses have you noticed during this period? What changes in the relationship cause you to feel sad? What changes have given you comfort?
Excerpted from www.caregiving.com: The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey, a handbook for family caregivers by Denise M. Brown.