Many people care for a spouse, a parent, or some other family member who is disabled or ill. Caregiving can be a rewarding experience. But caregiving can also be stressful.
There are three steps to being a good caregiver:
- Take care of yourself.
Exercise regularly, get proper rest and nutrition, and have regular medical checkups. And take time off to take part in pleasant, nurturing activities.
- Don't help too much.
Help the person you care for to be as independent as possible. For example, let the person make as many decisions as possible.
- Ask for help.
Accept support from others. A helping hand at the right time can make all the difference. For example, ask family or friends to pick up a few items at the grocery store.
Tip 1: Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself is your most important step as a caregiver. Caregiving can be stressful, even in the best of situations. Here are some important things you need to find time to do—just for yourself.
- Take a class on caregiving.
You will meet other caregivers and learn new ways to deal with challenging situations. To find classes in your area, contact the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).
- Get some exercise.
You may feel better and sleep better if you exercise. One way is to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Experts say to aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate activity a week.footnote 1
- Eat healthy meals and snacks.
When you are busy giving care, it may seem easier to eat fast food than to prepare healthy meals. But healthy meals are easy to prepare, and healthy eating will give you more energy to carry you through each day.
- Get enough sleep.
If you aren't getting enough sleep at night, take a nap during the day. Plan to get at least one full night's rest each week.
- Make time for an activity you enjoy.
For example, make time to read, listen to music, paint, do crafts, or play an instrument—even if you can only do it for a few minutes a day. If you like to go to church activities or take classes, ask a friend or family member to stay with your loved one for an hour or two once or twice a week so you can do those things.
- Get regular medical checkups.
This includes dental checkups. Even if you have always been healthy, you need to stay healthy. Know about the signs of depression, and watch for them not only in the person you are caring for but also in yourself. If you have feelings of lingering sadness or hopelessness, talk with your doctor.
- Get the support you need.
Helping a loved one with health problems can be emotionally difficult. If you are having trouble coping with your feelings, seek advice and counseling from family members, trained mental health professionals, or spiritual advisors.
Tip 2: Don't Help Too Much
As a caregiver, your goal is to help the person you're caring for have control over their own life (as much as possible). Here are some ways you can empower them to be more independent.
- Let the person make as many decisions as possible.
For example, they may decide what to wear, what to eat, or when to go to bed.
If you're caring for someone who has mild dementia, break complex tasks into simpler steps. For example, say, "First, get out the cereal box. Next, get out the milk."
- Make it easy.
Make changes in the person's home and provide tools that will allow the person to do things without help.
- Allow for mistakes.
Knowing that you could do something better or faster can be frustrating when you're a caregiver. Be patient, and let things get done with less-than-perfect results.
- Be encouraging.
Help the person feel good about trying to do things on their own.
- Give them responsibility to care for something.
Studies show that people who are asked to care for pets or plants live longer and become more independent.
- Match the person's tasks with their abilities.
If you aren't sure what tasks are reasonable, ask the doctor.
Tip 3: Ask for Help
The best answer to the question, "Is there anything you need?" is "Yes." "Yes, I need someone to stay here so I can go out." Or "Yes, I could really use a nap." Letting others help can make your caregiving easier.
- Ask for help.
When family or friends offer to lend a hand, be ready with specific ideas. Let them pick something they would like to do. For example, you could ask them to:
- Pick up a few items at the grocery store.
- Fix a meal or do some cleaning or yard work.
- Stay with the person you care for so you can go out for a while.
- Find other ways to get help.
- Hire a teenager or older adult to help for a few hours a day.
- Find a grocery store that delivers.
- Hire a home health aide or personal care assistant.
- Sign up for homemaker or chore services or "Meals on Wheels."
What services are available to help caregivers?
There are many services available to help caregivers. They include:
- Respite care.
This may be the most important service for caregivers. Respite services provide someone who will stay with the person while you get out of the house for a few hours. If the person you are caring for needs routine medical care, you may be able to arrange to have the person stay in a nursing home for a few days while you get away for a break.
- Adult day centers.
These are "drop-off" sites where a person who doesn't need one-on-one attention can stay during the day. This service is usually offered during working hours. It may or may not be available on weekends. Meals, personal care services, and social activities are provided.
- Adult foster care or board-and-care homes.
These are private homes where older adults receive around-the-clock personal care, supervision, and meals. Some states require board-and-care homes to be licensed.
- Nursing homes.
These generally have two levels of care. Intermediate care includes assistance with using the toilet, dressing, and personal care for people who don't have serious medical problems. Skilled nursing care is usually for people who have just come from the hospital or for others who have medical problems that require more intensive nursing care. Some facilities have special units for people with dementia.
- Hospice programs.
These provide social, personal, and medical services for people who are near the end of life and who wish to spend their remaining time at home or in an environment less formal than a hospital or nursing home.
- Disability assistance programs and businesses.
These provide a range of items and services for people with different types of disabilities and for their caregivers. For example, they can provide special clothing and equipment, special technology, and education.
- Support groups.
These groups give you a chance to discuss problems or concerns about caregiving with other caregivers.
Current as of: July 17, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Current as of: July 17, 2020