Being a caregiver means help someone, usually a loved one, who can't live life on their own. It can be as simple as doing the grocery shopping or laundry. It could also mean helping someone bath, get ready each day, or help with remembering to take medication. Typically, a caregiver spends a minimum of 20 hours a week providing care. The average caregiver in the U.S. is also a woman aged 46 who is employed full time, lives with a spouse or partner, and is taking care of her mother.
There are around 44 million caregivers in the U.S. so if you're one of them you're not alone. If you are just getting started, it's helpful to know what to expect or even other areas you can look to help your loved one.
Here is a list of areas where most caregivers help:
While caregiving is sometimes sudden because of an accident or illness more often it's a gradual process. You may do one or two of the items above today, and slowly help more and more each day.
If you live an hour or more away from your parent it could be a bit harder to help out. Although you want to help as much as possible, you can't just hop in the car and be there in a few minutes. Here is a list of things you can do to stay in the loop without losing your job and sanity while trying to care for your parent.
When you visit your parent you should pay attention to the little things. Your mom may be covering up her needs because she doesn't want you to worry, but there are telltale flags that can indicate when all is not well:
There are other ways you can help out without being in close proximity. Have a candid talk with your parent and ask if they would appreciate your taking over the bill paying, hiring a housekeeper to come in once a week, or having the yard work done.
While there's no exact formula for being a great caregiver there are specific traits and habits you can strive for that will make you a better fit for the job. Here are five things you can keep in mind that are the most important qualities a caregiver should endeavor to nurture when caring for an elderly parent:
As primary caregiver you should have a frank conversation with your parent regarding financials. While your primary concern may be whether the bills are being paid in a timely manner it's important that they don't feel like you're trying to take over their life. Many seniors enjoy the routine of paying their own bills and if this is the case then let them continue uninterrupted.
On the other hand if you start to see overdue bills and shutoff notices it's a warning sign that they're probably becoming overwhelmed by the chore. There are several ways you can offer help in this area without being overbearing so consider one or more of the following points when you discuss financial matters with your parents:
Offer to sort and open the mail weekly and organize the bills that need to be paid.
Plan an hour a week to help them pay their bills and check account balances.
Set up automatic bill payments with their utility companies and bank.
Ask if they'd prefer you take over their legal responsibilities and have them grant you power of attorney.
Being granted power of attorney means a person is appointed to oversee a senior's legal business. This is a step that your parent should discuss with their lawyer as well as with their children and caregiver, as there are basically two types of power of attorney and they'll want to be sure they have the correct papers with their specific needs and wishes when the document is granted by the court. Note that power of attorney is for legal financial matters; there is also a durable power of attorney for health care and a medical directive, which is called a living will.
As with every aspect of our lives, there are many apps designed with the caregiver in mind. When you're waiting in the doctor's office or mom's taking a nap do some searches for topics on your own personal situation. Then you can download some apps that will help you in your caregiver journey. Here are some examples of apps designed to help caregivers:
Caregiving can be stressful. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance the emotional and physical demands of caring for a senior parent over one-third of caregivers suffer from deteriorating physical and mental health due to the struggle of trying to balance their lives while providing care. As much as you'd like to do it all you simply can't, so don't feel selfish when you take time for yourself. Make sure someone else steps in and covers the care responsibilities on a regular basis so you can get regular breaks. When you get these breaks use them wisely: don't spend the time cleaning the garage or doing the mountain of laundry that seems to grow on its own. Instead, concentrate on self-care. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself while getting a break from caregiving:
Because caregiving usually starts out slow and piles up gradually you may become overwhelmed before you know it. If you find yourself losing your patience or your temper or just bursting into tears then you're probably overwhelmed and need help.
The first thing you should do is call a family meeting so your parents can talk with all their family members about what is needed. Get input from everyone and ask everyone to find three or four resources to bring to the next meeting. Here are some suggestions where you can find support; search online for specific contact information:
As a caregiver it's easy to put your parent's health before yours but remember, you can only care for them as long as you're healthy and able. Start having frank discussions with your parents, get your care routine organized, and don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help when you start to get overwhelmed.