Taking care of an elderly loved one can be a rewarding experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, the work of family caregivers often goes unpaid and unnoticed by most of society. And yet, the value that family caregivers provide is enormous.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, the value of unpaid caregiving reached $470 billion in 2013, nearly matching the value of Walmart sales that year ($477 billion). That’s a huge amount of work.
At the very least, eligible family caregivers should be compensated for their work through a program like FreedomCare. It’s a Medicaid-funded program that helps you get paid for caregiving work immediately after each shift.
But whether you qualify for FreedomCare or not, juggling your personal life with caregiving duties can be a challenge. So here are ten tips to make the job a bit easier:
1. Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being a caregiver can take a significant physical and emotional toll, and putting it all on one person is a lot to ask of anyone.
You could ask other family members to help take care of your loved one or you could hire a professional in-home caregiving service. Either option can help relieve some of the burdens on you.
2. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
It’s easy to overlook personal needs when taking care of someone else, but your health and well-being matter, too. Don’t neglect them. It’s not fair to you and it will actually limit your ability to help others because you won’t be able to function as well.
So take care of yourself. Keep a healthy diet, drink lots of water, and get regular exercise. It’s the little things that count. Also, watch for signs of depression and burnout. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a therapist or doctor if needed.
3. Take breaks
Caregiving often involves a lot of menial work, such as cleaning, cooking, driving, and assisting patients with other day-to-day tasks. If you’re not careful, you could wear yourself out from over-exhaustion.
So take regular breaks. Give yourself time to relax and recharge. If you don’t, you’ll eventually burn out. You also shouldn’t feel guilty about taking regular time off.
4. Set boundaries
On a similar note, it’s important to set boundaries. Work when it’s your shift, but don’t allow your role as caregiver to dominate your life. You should have limits around when you are expected to work and let others pick off where you left off.
Be deliberate about scheduling times of the day and week when you are off-duty and stick to them.
5. Join a support group
Sometimes it can be nice to join a support group of other caregivers. Hearing and learning from other caregivers’ experiences can be validating and encouraging. They may be going through similar things that you are and have helpful advice or tips. At the very least, you’ll feel less alone in your role as a caregiver.
If you can’t join a caregiver support group in person, join one online.
6. Stay connected
Did you know that 44% of caregivers are considered socially isolated? This sad statistic is another reason why caregiving can be so difficult. It’s often just you and the one you are caring for. You may not have time to socialize and associate with others.
So make time to connect with family and friends. Even if all you can do is make a phone call or text, that’s better than nothing. Staying connected is important for your emotional and mental well-being.
7. Leverage technology to make the job easier
These days, there’s a lot of technology out there that can make your job as a caregiver easier. For example, you could use medication dispensers, personal emergency response systems (PERS), smart home devices, video calling, voice assistants, and caregiving apps to help streamline some caregiving tasks.
8. Communicate well
As a caregiver, it’s important to communicate clearly with your loved one, doctors, and other family members and caregivers to ensure that everyone is on the same page. That way, you can prevent miscommunications and help ensure your loved one gets the best care possible.
9. Educate yourself
Another way to improve your caregiving skills is to educate yourself on best practices as well as the specific needs and conditions of your loved one. Keep track of their medical documents and know what each medication is for, so you can better understand how to help. The better you understand your loved one’s needs, the more helpful you can be.
10. Be patient
Lastly, be patient with yourself and your loved one. Being a caregiver is one of the toughest jobs in the world, so it’s important to give yourself credit for it.
Focus on what you can control and take things one day at a time. If you can do that, being a caregiver will become a little more manageable.