Deciding to provide care for a parent or loved one is selfless act. While caregiving can be a fulfilling experience, it can also be very demanding. If you have recently assumed a caregiving role, or plan to in the future – you certainly aren’t alone.
A survey conducted by AARP estimates that 1 in 5 Americans currently provide care to a loved one. Unfortunately, many new caregivers are often unprepared for the realities of caring for a parent or other relative, while juggling multiple priorities. Following are some practical tips that might be helpful for first-time caregivers, as well as caregivers who could use a refresher.
Have a Plan
Approaching your parent or loved one about needing extra help can be uncomfortable for both of you. However, avoiding discussing your concerns until an emergency like an illness or injury happens only adds undue stress, while also limiting your options. If you aren’t sure how to begin the conversation, AARP shares the following tips on how best to approach your loved one:
- Don’t force the conversation. Instead, look for natural openings to voice your concerns. Has your loved one commented on having difficulty getting to the store, or with certain chores around the house? Are there other obvious signs they need assistance?
- Be gentle, but persistent. Keep in mind that losing independence can be scary, which may cause some older adults to deny they need help. Be patient, but persistent if your loved one is resistant. Don’t be afraid to ask another family member or friend for help if you fail to make progress.
- Treat your loved one with respect. In your desire to see to your loved one’s health and welfare, it can be easy to overlook their wishes and desires. Including them in the decision-making process and listening to their concerns will help them feel valued and involved.
Take Time for Yourself
Being a caregiver impacts your health – mentally, physically, and emotionally – especially if your loved one has a chronic illness or a memory-related cognitive disorder. In its 2020 research report, Caregiving in the U.S., AARP found that a significant percentage (21%) of individuals said their health grew worse after becoming a caregiver. The same survey reported that 36 percent of caregivers are dealing with a high-level of emotional stress, and 21 percent of participants feel isolated and alone.
While caregiving is demanding – there is much you can do to reduce chronic stress and prevent burnout. First-time caregivers may want to consider connecting with a support group, set healthy boundaries, and develop a consistent self-care routine. All are important for your overall health and well-being.
As mentioned above, caregiving can impact your physical and mental health. Feelings of frustration, anger, and guilt are normal – especially if the transition to a caregiving role was abrupt. Health.com shares that almost 50 percent of caregivers feel as if they had no choice in whether to become a caregiver or not. Additionally, 40 percent of caregivers state they are performing medical tasks with no prior knowledge or training.
It is natural for first-time caregivers and recipients to feel overwhelmed. Patience, flexibility, and honest communication are key as you learn to navigate this new chapter in your relationship. If a situation arises that frustrates you, take a few moments to collect yourself. Don’t rush – address the situation only when you are feeling calm and in control of your emotions.
Ask for Help
From helping with household chores to providing transportation to doctor’s visits, there are countless tasks that caregivers complete daily. For first-time caregivers, being realistic about how much time they have available and then prioritizing what needs to be done is important. When your to-do list overflows, ask friends and family for help. Take advantage of technology to relieve some of the burden of caregiving – ordering groceries or refilling prescriptions online are just two examples.
Feeling guilty about asking for assistance is normal, but knowing and respecting your limits will allow you to provide care for your loved one – both now and into the future.
More Caregiving Tips
Discover more caregiving resources from The Bristal. Learn more about Understanding and Coping with Caregiver Stress and Burnout and 5 Helpful Podcasts Caregivers Can Listen To.
This blog was originally published on May 20, 2021 and updated in 2023.