What is Family Caregiving?

For those becoming a family member's caregiver for the first time, the responsibilities may seem overwhelming. Thankfully, caregiving can also come with a lot of support and self-growth. Medical treatments are advancing each year, and people are living longer. Consequently, more people are becoming caregivers. Read on to find ways to increase support, overcome challenges, and continually improve your caregiving experience.

Before diving in, we should explore "what is family caregiving?" Family caregiving can span a wide variety of roles, whether it be caring for a child with physical or mental illnesses, an aging parent, a spouse who is disabled, or any combination of the above. Being able to provide for a family member with chronic diseases or disabilities takes grit, time, love, and kindness. It can be overwhelming, but the gift of caring for your loved one is helping to improve their daily life and offering them the love and attention they deserve.

How Do You Become A Family Caregiver?

Most people who step into the role of caregiving have not been trained to do so. This leaves most feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about what to do. Thankfully, you do not have to be an expert in providing adequate care with love. While the role is time-consuming, it is not recommended that you give up your own needs to be an excellent caregiver. You will also provide better care for your loved one by taking care of yourself.

Smiling daughter helping her mother

If you are new to family caregiving, here are a few tips that may be helpful.

  • Do your research - You will want to learn as much as possible about the disability or illness affecting your family member. The better versed you are in the ins and outs of their struggle, the better able to care for them you will be. Plus, it will also decrease your anxiety about the caretaking role.
  • Find other caregivers - By having a team of people in a similar situation, you are less likely to feel alone. Having people to talk to, give support, and share pointers is a vital aspect of caretaking.
  • Trust your instincts - No two people's experiences are the same. Even if you do as much research as possible, you are more than likely to be thrown a curveball at some point. Rather than only adhering to what you've read, trust your instincts. You know your family member better than any doctor or specialist. Heed what they say but also advocate for your family member when needed.
  • Encourage independence - Sometimes, it may feel easiest to do everything yourself. However, it is essential that, where possible, you encourage your loved one to be independent. There are many strategies and techniques you can try. These can help your loved one feel more empowered and liberated to navigate the world.
  • Recognize your limitations - You are not a superhero. Be sure that you recognize where your limitations lie and set those boundaries. Once you have established what you can handle, be sure to communicate limits with anyone involved in the caregiving, whether doctors, family members, or friends.

There will be a wide array of emotions that come with caregiving; take note of both the easy and the complex emotions. It is essential to name and acknowledge your feelings rather than burying them. Even emotions of fear or anger have a place and do not mean that you don't love your family member.

Anxiety, grief, resentment, and guilt are common emotions for caregivers. Once you can name and understand what you are feeling, you can better deal with these emotions. Whether with a counselor, a support group, or a friend, find a person (or persons) whom you can trust. It can also be helpful to keep a journal of how you feel.

Tips for Family Caregiver

Perhaps the most crucial tip for family caregivers is to find support. Even if you are the primary caregiver, recognize that you cannot handle everything alone. Friends, other family members, caregiving groups, community services, and other health professionals can make up your team.

Burnout happens quickly when people feel isolated. That, in turn, affects the ability to care for another person. Take the time to understand what your loved one needs, and then list all caregiving tasks. The more specific, the better! Once you have a list, you will be able to determine which items to delegate and which ones you can handle.

smiling woman with her disabled father in wheelchair outdoor

A second tip to remember is to truly connect with your loved one. Even though it is highly challenging, caring for a loved one in such a selfless way can enhance the relationship and strengthen your feelings. This is true for both the caregiver and the one receiving the care.

Even if the person you are caring for cannot verbally communicate, you can still take the time to singularly focus on them. Make eye contact, hold hands, talk calmly, and pay attention to how you connect with them.

Additionally, make sure that you are taking care of your own needs. Caregiving can be pretty draining, and if you are burnt out or distracted, it is bound to show through in how you are behaving with the person receiving care.

You might find that setting aside a daily time to relax, talk with a trusted confidant, write in a journal, pray, meditate, exercise, laugh, or do something else that you enjoy are great ways to decompress.

The last tip is to make sure that you utilize available services in your community. Although these will be different offerings from town to town, most communities have services that help family caregivers. Sometimes these are covered through insurance, sometimes they're free, and sometimes they have a cost associated.

Examples might be home health aides, delivery services for meals, respite care, adult day care centers, skilled nursing, or even transportation services. Some services may be specific to veterans, certain religions, or even clubs. Call around and see what is available in your area.

Caregiving is such a form of love. Implementing a few of these tips can help ease anxiety, cement a plan, and provide an easier caregiving path.

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