PA Requirements - Blog

Caring for a loved one? You’re not alone
Posted by Emily Pazel

If you have ever been in the position where you have had to take care of a family member, friend or neighbor – whether it’s due to a disability or age-related – then you know the responsibility and hardships that often come with it. It’s relatively common for everyone to experience being a caregiver at some point in his or her life. Often, we end up taking care of a parent or family member that falls ill or has a disability and can no longer provide for him or herself.

Over 60 million people living in the United States are unpaid caregivers, devoting their attention to someone else in need. And in the month of November, those millions are recognized during National Family Caregivers Month for all their hard work and dedication. 

Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to be a caregiver yet, but you know it will eventually come. Or, maybe you have already been down this road before and you can help others from your experiences. Whatever the case might be, being a caregiver can be a big responsibility because it usually requires a big part of your time and energy being devoted to an individual in need.

What does it mean to be a caregiver?

A caregiver can derive from many different levels of family members and even friends and neighbors. It could be that you are a spouse, partner, adult child, sibling, niece, nephew, or even a grandchild to someone that needs care. Whichever scenario, it’s a good idea to identify yourself as a caregiver first, so that you can better prepare yourself for this new role. 

Although being a caregiver will take much of your time, you may still be employed, have children or have a busy lifestyle that makes it hard to devote time to this person. It can be frustrating at times, stressful and tough to balance being a caregiver, as well as upholding all your other normal duties. Many times, you’ll end up having to do things you’ve never done before, such as navigating the social services system, calling doctors for the care receiver while you’re at work and taking care of their day-to-day needs. 

If you have never had to take care of someone before, the pressure to keep him or her safe and healthy might become overwhelming at times. In case you don’t know where to start, here’s a quick list of tasks related to being a caregiver:

  • Buy groceries, cook, clean house, do laundry, provide transportation
  • Help the care receiver get dressed, take a shower, take medicine
  • Transfer someone out of the bed/chair, help with physical therapy, perform medical interventions – injections, feeding tubes, would treatment, breathing treatments
  • Arrange medical appointments, drive to their doctors, sit in during appointments, monitor medications
  • Talk with doctors, nurses, care manager, and other to understand what needs to be done
  • Spend time handling crises and arranging for assistance – especially for someone who cannot be left alone
  • Handle finances and other legal matters
  • Be a companion
  • Be a (usually) unpaid aide, on call 24/7

While it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the new tasks and challenges you’ve taken on as a caregiver, there are a few ways to lessen the load and make things a little easier for you to manage. 

Tips to for Caregivers

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you have an uncle who doesn’t have any children and he suddenly becomes ill and the responsibility falls to you when he can no longer take care of himself. Maybe you didn’t realize growing up that you would be the one to take care of your uncle, but now the responsibility lies with you and you don’t know where to start. First, you should take a deep breath and know that there are millions out there in the same boat as you. 

If you think you might be a little overwhelmed in your current situation, take a step back to reflect and read some different ways that you can take back control over your role as a caregiver:

  • Effective communication: While being a caregiver, effective communication is a key skill to have with the person you are taking care of. You will not only need to be an effective communicator with your loved one, you will also need to communicate often with their medical team and care providers. Once you have mastered becoming an excellent communicator, you may have to help your loved one with realizing their limitations and let them know you are there to help.
  • Taking care of yourself first: Even though it’s tough to hear while taking care of someone else, your health and taking care of yourself should be a priority. This might mean taking care of your mental health by seeing a counselor or taking care of your physical health by seeing a doctor. Either way, caregiving takes a toll on caregivers, so it’s important to remain at your best health in order to help your loved ones effectively.
  • Accepting help: Although accepting help from family members, community and your friends might seem like a no-brainer, it can be sometimes difficult because you might think you are burdening someone else with your responsibility. The truth is that you shouldn’t feel that way. Accepting help from those that are willing to give it can help ease your stress and help take better care of your loved ones.
  • Being realistic & staying organized: Being realistic with your loved one about what they are experiencing can be important. It’s also important to be realistic with yourself so that you can cope with feelings of sadness and grief, especially if this is your first time being a caregiver. Staying organized and on top of your tasks can help ease your stress.
  • Providing proper physical care: Not only can caregiving take a toll on your mental health, it can also start to affect your physical health – especially if your loved one is experiencing struggles with mobility. Learning the proper way to lift, feed and provide other forms of care for your loved one is important.
  • Trying new methods of care: New methods of care can be crucial to surviving during a time of crisis. Things are constantly changing, and sometimes it’s for the better. New helpful programs can surface, online patient portals can provide easier access, and new treatments can become available for your loved one.
  • Stay connected with the outside world: Lastly, it’s important to try and stay connected to the outside world, which can be difficult to do when your new responsibility can easily take over your life. Staying connected to the outside world can help ease your feelings of isolation or depression. So, take the time to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues, and try to talk about other things than your responsibilities as a caregiver.

Remember that while you can give all your time and effort into taking care of a loved one, you should take time for yourself and still enjoy the things you liked to do prior to becoming a caregiver on occasion. Try to get outdoors and talk a nice walk while taking in the fresh air. Because if you’ve been a caregiver before, you understand how hard it can be. Your loved ones are blessed to have someone in their life to take care of them, but it’s also important to take care of yourself.