What are some caregiver tips?

Lori La Bey
Administration Specialist

The list is far and long and for me personally, I have found I need a war chest full of tips and tools as things are constantly changing. The factors that have personally affected how I give care, my guess is affect you as well.

Here are some things to keep in mind when giving care. Each of these I have found can be triggers for me to act positively or negatively depending on the combination of them. I have found asking myself these questions and answering them honestly has allowed me to get to the root of why I feel out of sink or why I’m feeling really comfortable with caring. Most of the time I find my reaction to giving care is much more about me and things happening in my life, then it has to do with the person I am caring for. Sometimes it is about my perceptions and not reality when I review things… So ask yourself before every task if possible the following questions. I think you might be surprised at your own answers like I have been.

  • What type of mood I'm in? (I’m talking at your core not necessarily what you are showing to everyone else.)
  • How much time do I have to deal with a particular situation?
  • Who am I caring for?
  • Why am I caring for them? (Love, guilt, is it my job…)
  • Do I have the skill set to do what needs to be done?
  • Am I comfortable completing the task? (maybe I really don’t want to give my Father a shower)
  • Am I financially responsible for costs involved? (Am I feeling additional burdens and responsibilities and see others in the family as not helpful… if so I’ll admit there have been times I’ve held onto resentment I didn’t know was even there.)
  • Am I tired?
  • Are others involved in the process? (This can be a doubled edge sword at times)
  • Do I feel appreciated or used or something in the middle?
  • Am I well or feeling ill?
  • Is caring for this person pulling me away from other responsibilities, duties or things I would like to be involved in?
  • Do I feel I’ve lost my life to give care to another?

I hope these questions will help you like they have helped me sort out my feelings when caring.

Caring for someone with a chronic illness is one of the greatest expressions of love. It can also be an overwhelming experience for a caregiver. Some tips to help avoid “caregiver burnout” include reaching out to available resources for help, like support groups and professional services, taking time off, taking care of yourself with proper nutrition, sleep and exercise, and learning about treatment options, support resources and information about your loved one’s condition.

Betty Long, RN, MHA
Nursing Specialist

Adult children can assist their parents by helping them maintain their independence and dignity. Rule # 1, as others have said, is to take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself you won't be able to take care of others. Here are some more tips:

  1. Talk early and often with your parent. Many older Americans are private about their personal lives. Initiate the conversation by discussing how you're planning for your own future, or elicit a doctor's help in starting the conversation. Elderly people often are more receptive to their doctor's promptings about living wills and health care proxies than when their children raise the issue. Once prompted, they often will act.
  2. Don't make promises you can't keep. Most people want to age in the place they call home, but that's not always feasible. Ask your loved ones what their goals are. Talk about what can be done to help them age gracefully at home as long as possible. Ask who they would trust if they lose the ability to make decisions.
  3. Remember your spouse or partner. Don't feel guilty about your taking time to be with the people who care about you.
  4. Use humor.  To get my elderly father to use his walker, I once told him, "Dad, if you fall and break your hip, my reputation as a nurse advocate will be ruined."
  5. When others ask what they can do, take them up on it.  Be practical.  Have a list ready.  Assign them a task.
  6. Achieve a balance of what your parent can do and what you can do for them.  One client had a routine every Saturday where she visited her mom.  She wrote out her checks, but her mom was still making the decisions; and the daughter took comfort in knowing that mom's bills were being paid on time.
  7. Acknowledge the efforts of siblings who have the day-to-day care. A simple thank you goes a long way. Even if you're at a distance, consider making doctor's appointments or arrangements for help in your parent's home, transportation, or Meals on Wheels.  Make frequent phone calls to your mom or dad; older people are often lonely. If it's difficult for them to communicate by phone, mail them a quick handwritten note. Let them know you're thinking about them.
  8. Use community resources. Many local nonprofit organizations and government agencies are dedicated to helping both seniors and their caregivers. 
Shelley Webb
Nursing Specialist

The most important tip I can give you is to take care of yourself. Although this may seem selfish, it is actually for the benefit of the care recipient. I'm sure that you've heard self-care being compared to placing your own oxygen mask before you attempt to help anyone else. I also like to give the example of the automobile that will not run on an empty tank. You must make sure your own tank is full in order to be an effective caregiver.

Some tips to help you to care for yourself:

  • Get respite care and get away for awhile. This is imperative! Ask a neighbor to stay with your loved one or contact a home health agency that will provide a care companion (the money will be well-spent). Ask your Area Agency on Aging for resources that offer free respite care.
  • Take a walk in a pretty area. Walking has been shown to decrease blood pressure.
  • Listen to music. 
  • Dance with your dog in the kitchen.
  • Laugh! Watch a comedy, read a funny story.
  • Exercise. Buy a couple of work-out DVDs and use them. The Wii System has a fitness program that is also good for maintaining or improving balance in aging loved ones.
  • Talk with friends. Don't isolate yourself as it can cause depression.
  • Allow people to help you. Keep a pad of paper by your phone with a list of things that friends or family could do to help you. When they ask if they can help, let them... provide suggestions from your list.

Other tips:

  • Be Intentional about your caregiving - learn about your loved one's diagnosis. Be aware of their medications. Know why these medications have been prescribed and their possible side effects.  
  • Be organized. Keep a notebook that contains your loved one's medical history, their insurance information, their medications (dosage, start/stop dates, prescribing physician, pharmacy and any untoward effects that have occured), places to document notes from a physician, hospital visit or diagnostic exam and anything else that you feel is pertinent.
  • Join a support group. Consider these groups as educational opportunities.  Their members have a lot of experience and can help to solve problems because they already know what to watch for, what legal papers are imperative, what works and what doesn't. Support groups are a wealth of information. (If you can't find one in your area, there are several on-ine support groups that you can join.)

Caregiving isn't easy but it can be rewarding.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.