Caregivers come in all forms, and while some may think of a caregiver as a professional caretaker, many are actually everyday people caring for a loved one.
If you’re a caregiver, welcome to the club. However you got here — maybe you unexpectedly became a caregiver out of necessity, perhaps you chose to be a caregiver for a friend or family member, or maybe you know you’ll become a family caretaker in the future — know you’re not alone.
Currently, nearly 40 percent of adults in the United States are caregivers, according to new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project initiative. And while caregiving can be rewarding, it can also be stressful. The demands can be taxing. Aside from the physical duties, caregiving also requires a great deal of emotional strength, especially when most people aren’t schooled in taking care of another person 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Duties of a caregiver
Each caregiver situation is totally unique. If you’ve taken over the role of family caretaker or you’re responsible for tending to a sick loved one, realize that you may be called on to a variety of tasks.
- Administer and track medications on a daily basis;
- Care for open wounds, bandage lesions or sores, and provide other first aid practices;
- Follow physical or occupational therapy instructions (stretches, etc.);
- Groom and dress a weak or sick person;
- Help with bathroom and bathing needs;
- Assist with eating meals up to several times per day;
- If necessary, lend physical support to push a wheelchair or carry crutches.
- Offer constant encouragement and motivation when difficult situations arise;
- Soothe anger, frustration or agitation of an ill loved one;
- Curb debilitating feelings of hopelessness and helplessness;
- Handle memory loss or confounding dementia behaviors;
- Realize when medical or emergency care is mandated, and coordinate it immediately;
- Arrange (and maybe chauffer) visits to support groups, doctors, specialists, church or place of worship, etc.
Establishing a precedent when it comes to a loved one’s care is essential, especially with the legal aspects of finances and health care. When dealing with someone’s legal issues, you can expect to:
- Find a lawyer who can help you establish a will or estate plan. A lawyer can also provide strong advice on other key developments in the life of your loved one.
- Discuss the aspects important financial information, such as the location of documents, gaining access to banking accounts and becoming the power of attorney if your loved one becomes incapable of caring for himself or herself.
- Help create a living will for end-of-life decisions. This pivotal paper can tell medical personnel just how much or how little care the person wishes to receive.
- Talk with other family members about your intentions, and ask their advice if you feel unsure about anything.
- Find out what financial protection is offered via a social security program and pension benefits.
Caregivers must increasingly play a role in coordinating care, advocating for their loved one by reporting medication side effects and suspected drug interactions, and advising the sick one on what’s known about the effectiveness of selected therapies. Be prepared to:
- Schedule and follow up on all medical appointments;
- Research other doctors and health care providers to obtain second opinions;
- Deliver patient to doctor visits and take notes on what’s discussed;
- Obtain and maintain medical equipment from crutches and wheelchairs to oxygen tanks;
- Fill and pick up multiple pharmacy prescriptions;
- Arrange for home health care as needed.
Other vital roles for family caregivers:
Both caregivers and their sick loved ones can experience loss in wages and other work-related benefits due to changes in work patterns. Be prepared to:
- Go grocery shopping and run errands;
- File and follow up on insurance claims;
- Cook for, clean, bathe or drive the patient around;
- Care for pets and younger family members in the home;
- Perform light housekeeping and home repairs, or hire someone to do those things.
Take the next steps
The role of family caregiving is expansive, involving virtually every aspect of daily life. How do you start without feeling totally overwhelmed?
- First, identify your own specific caregiving concerns using the lists above. They’re designed to provide both clarity and validation for family caregivers, even if you tend to a loved one from far away.
- Know when you or your patient is suffering significant psychological distress, and when it’s time to seek professional help or counseling. The American Psychological Association estimates that up to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression, and up to 50 percent meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Consider taking part in education and counseling programs, and make use of caregiver support systems. Many resources are available, including education and counseling, respite care and individual and group therapy.