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What is Caregiving? A list of tips for Caregivers

Young man giving medications to an older woman.jpeg

Caregiving is one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs you’ll ever have. Caring for an elderly parent whose needs increase with time can be challenging. It often means making sacrifices with your time and money and reducing the time you spend with your own family. Caregiving also includes making decisions and helping the person who possibly cared for you when you were a child.

If you’re just getting started down this road, it’s helpful to know what to expect. And if you’re in the middle of this situation, it’s important to have the support you need with the right information and resources.

What Caregiving is All About

Caregiving doesn’t look the same for every family. What it means for someone with an independent parent is different for a family with an elderly parent who needs constant care. A family caregiver provides assistance in many ways, depending on the unique needs of the senior. They may help with any or all of the following:

  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Grocery shopping and running errands
  • Assisting with personal care, such as bathing and dressing
  • Helping with medications
  • Assisting with mobility, including transferring someone in and out of bed
  • Scheduling doctor appointments
  • Transporting to appointments
  • Assisting with medical procedures such as physical therapy and colostomy care
  • Making medical decisions

Caregiving often starts out slow with minimal assistance. Maybe the person is no longer able to drive to appointments or to go grocery shopping. It gradually increases over time as they lose the ability to do these tasks for themselves.

How to be a Long-Distance Caregiver

If you live far away from your senior family member, you cannot do all of the same things for them as if you lived close. You may have a brother or sister who can take care of those day-to-day tasks for your loved one. However, you can still be a long-distance caregiver and help your parent and your siblings.

Someone who lives in another city or state can help in several different ways. They may be able to make decisions regarding financial and medical issues. They often take over the financial decision making and manage bank accounts so other family members don’t have this responsibility. If money is an issue, they can help pay for respite care or other resources to assist those who have the daily caregiving responsibilities.

Click here to learn more about Village Green's Respite Care Program

As a member of the family, your job is often to listen to the parent and the adult children when they are struggling or in disagreement over an issue. You can hear both sides and advocate for either, depending on how you see the situation. Sometimes just being moral support when you live far away can be the most valuable assistance you can provide.

How to be a Great Caregiver

Every adult child who cares for their parent has the same goal: to be the best caregiver possible. They want to provide a better environment and care for their loved one than what they would find elsewhere. However, this goal can be more challenging than you might expect in the beginning. 

One of the most important skills you will need to have or to develop is patience. Your loved one may move more slowly, which means you need to allow more time for daily tasks or other activities. Being patient also means you’ll need to stay calm and listen to their perspective when they disagree with you or refuse to do what you know is best.

Adult children often begin treating their elderly parents like children who have no authority and don’t know what’s best for them. While this may be the case in many situations, it’s important to continue to treat them with dignity and respect. One of the biggest challenges for family caregivers is in balancing the senior’s need to maintain control over their own lives with making good decisions about their care.

You may need to explain why their decision is not good for them or why you are making certain choices. It’s also a good idea to give them as much control as possible in little decisions. Show them that you are listening even if you can’t always agree with their view.

Continue to show them love and give them the respect they have earned as your parent even when you must go against their wishes. If you can put yourself in their shoes, it will make you a much more compassionate caregiver.

A Caregiver's Guide: A Guide and Checklist to Help You

Caregiving Tips

Being a family caregiver isn’t easy. Here are some tips that will help you through this phase of your life and make your relationship with your senior loved one stronger.

  • Plan ahead – if you haven’t started caregiving for your parents or have just begun helping them out, talk about the future and their wishes, have a plan in place for when their needs change
  • Become knowledgeable about their financial situation
  • Get a medical diagnosis – if your loved one is beginning to need assistance, make sure they are attending medical appointments and find out if they have an illness or condition that will worsen over time
  • Find resources before you need them – know what your community will offer and if other family members will be able to help you out
  • Simplify your life – build more free time into your day so you won’t be as stressed when your loved one begins to need more help

While these tips won’t solve all of your problems, they can make caring for your parents an easier transition.

Being Power of Attorney

One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make as a family caregiver is when you need to become the power of attorney. If you have siblings, you’ll need to agree on who will have this power for your loved one. It’s a good idea to talk to your parents while they are still in good health. Let them make this decision with input from everyone.

Someone may not feel comfortable in this role, and it’s important to discover any issues before the change must happen. Some families want more than one person to be power of attorney. One child may handle the financial and legal aspects while another takes care of the medical portion. Parents should make their wishes known while they are still competent to make decisions. Explain the details of care they want and expect such as end-of-life measures and where they would be placed in care when they can no longer live alone.

Handling Financial Issues

It’s a major challenge to handle your parents’ finances. If you have power of attorney for financial matters, you’ll need to know about the checking and savings accounts in their name, any investments or other property they may have as well as insurance policies.

It’s important to discuss this issue with your parents before they are unable to assist you with financial decisions. Know what assets they have so you can plan for the costs of care. You will also need to be aware of the costs involved in independent and assisted living to ensure they have enough resources to provide for the rest of their lives.

Once your loved one is no longer able to make financial decisions, you must manage their money to ensure they have enough for the rest of their lives. You may need to find resources to help with expenses or look for other ways to cut costs. Because the financial aspect of caring for an aging loved one is so time-consuming, it’s often the responsibility of someone other than the primary caregiver. However, you have the task of making sure that person has the money they need to provide the daily care of the parent.

Apps for Caregivers

Technology has enhanced people’s lives in many ways, so it isn’t surprising to see programs and applications developed to assist caregivers with elderly parents.  Many are free or low cost, so they can fit in any budget. Here are a few apps to consider:

  • iPharmacy – this free app provides information on all kinds of prescription medications such as side effects and interactions as well as the use of the drug
  • WebMD – another free app you can use to check symptoms for possible health conditions and even set reminders for medications
  • Lotsa Helping Hands – this app allows you to connect with family and friends to share a calendar and set up appointments. People can leave messages. This app is free but only available on Apple products.
  • CareZone – another free app available on both Apple and Android devices, store all information about your family member and invite others to review and even participate, log medications and set up tasks, even send voice messages and upload photos

These are just a few of the apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can help you care for your loved one and make your life easier. You’ll also find meal-planning and nutrition apps, scheduling and budget apps and a wide variety of other tools which can save time and work.

Taking Breaks / Self-Care

Because caregiving is so taxing emotionally, mentally and physically, you need to take care of yourself. Many times, the caregiver must balance their own lives and responsibilities with the duties they have for their parents. If you don’t care for yourself, sooner or later you’ll be unable to care for your family and loved one.

Some of the things you should do for yourself as you provide care for your loved one include the following:

  • Get plenty of rest – take naps if you can’t get enough sleep at night
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Exercise – it not only keeps you in shape, but it releases tension
  • Make regular visits to the doctor to monitor your own health
  • Take breaks from caregiving and find something you enjoy as a way to relax
  • Delegate tasks in your own home to others
  • Reduce outside obligations to give you more free time

Start these habits before caring for your senior loved one or when you first begin assisting them so they become habits as your tasks increase. Remember that caring for yourself isn’t being selfish; it’s what keeps you able to care for others.

How to Get Help When Needed

One of the keys to be a successful caregiver is getting help when you need it. Caregiving can make you feel isolated, especially if you can’t leave your loved one alone. Many caregivers aren’t aware of resources available to help them manage this difficult but rewarding time in their lives.

You can often contact your local senior community center or Division of Family Services to find out what’s available. You may qualify for assistance with meals through community programs or other services.

Support Groups

Sometimes you need advice, encouragement or just someone to talk to. Support groups exist for caregivers of aging parents. You can often find a local group or go online for support. Sites like Facebook feature numerous support groups where you can ask questions and voice concerns and frustrations. Many of these are closed groups, which means your comments are kept private.

You may also ask local senior communities and other organizations geared towards the elderly about support groups. Churches and other nonprofit groups may also offer programs where caregivers can get together for training or camaraderie.

Respite Care

Even the most dedicated caregivers need a break to get their own tasks done or just to relax and regroup. Respite care enables the caregiver to get the break they need. You can find people in the community who will be willing to stay with your parent for a few hours. You can often get a list of names from senior resources in the community.

If your loved one requires more attention, you can seek out professional respite care through senior communities. Assisted living centers often offer respite care where the senior stays for the day or a few hours until you come and take them home.

Caregiving is often a challenging, tiring task. However, it’s also the last way people can show their love for their aging parents who are no longer able to be independent. It’s important for all new caregivers to learn about the resources available to them and to seek out help when they need it.

Click here to learn more about Village Green's Respite Care Program

A Caregiver's Guide: A Guide and Checklist to Help You