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Becoming a First-Time Caregiver: How to Prepare and What to Expect

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How to Be a Caregiver for Your Parents

Transitioning into the role of a caregiver for your parents is often a gradual process. Maybe you've started dropping by your dad's house to assist with housekeeping more frequently, or taking your mom to doctor's appointments. Over time, caregiver responsibilities can increase to the point where you can’t take care of your own needs. If time management becomes a struggle, it could directly affect your career, personal life, and other relationships.

In some instances, caregiving may be triggered by a significant health event such as a stroke, injury, or heart attack. Whatever your relationship is to the person you're caring for, it's important to identify the right caregiver resources to help you navigate your new role as a first-time caregiver. Use these tips for first-time caregivers to better prepare for being a caregiver.

 

What is a Caregiver?

A caregiver provides ongoing care for sick or elderly individuals who require extra help. In the context of senior care, caregiving primarily refers to the tasks associated with caring for a loved one within a private home setting. Caregivers do not work under the direction of a healthcare professional or doctor, although some may provide specialized services such as physical therapy or medication management.

The types of care offered by caregivers vary based on the specific physical, emotional, and medical needs of the ones they're caring for. Here are some common caregiver responsibilities that are typically provided on a regular basis:

  • Handling finances or other legal matters
  • Bathing, grooming, and dressing
  • Buying groceries, preparing meals, cleaning the house, and doing laundry
  • Providing transportation to doctors’ appointments
  • Monitoring medications and picking up prescriptions
  • Consulting with doctors, nurses, and other caregiver resources to understand what needs to be done to ensure the best care
  • Helping with medical interventions such as feeding tubes, wound treatments, breathing treatments, and other health needs
  • Being on call 24/7 to tend to additional needs
  • Being a companion for the care receiver

Becoming a caregiver – especially if it’s your first time – can be physically and emotionally exhausting. To help you best prepare for this new role while supporting your own well-being, read the following tips.

 

Tips for First-Time Caregivers

Being a caregiver is often a full-time job. However, stepping into the role of a caregiver for your aging parents can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. With the right caregiver support and resources, you can transition into becoming a first-time caregiver with greater ease. Follow these tips for first-time caregivers to help ensure a successful outcome for you and your caregiving recipient:

 

Maintain a Detailed Daily Schedule

Keeping a house running smoothly may take a lot of upfront work. Planning daily activities, managing medications, and preparing meals on top of all your other priorities can be daunting tasks. Consider organizing a calendar to make it easier for you and your caregiver recipient to have a sense of control and order. Even adding in basic meal planning can help eliminate stress and contribute to budget maintenance.

 

Stay on Top of Doctors' Appointments and Medications

Working with doctors and other healthcare professionals is an important part of being a caregiver. As you begin going with your loved one to their appointments, it may be a good idea to ask the doctors questions and get a full download of your loved one’s conditions. That way, you can better gauge what level of support they need now, as well as identify any skills you may need to learn in order to provide the best level of care. If possible, ask the doctor for training if you have to do tasks at home that you’ve never done before, such as injecting medicine.

If you are uncomfortable or unable to perform any of the tasks required of a caregiver, ask someone you trust for help. Or, if there’s room in the budget, look into hiring for assistance with certain tasks.

Another important step in being a caregiver is organizing all their appointments, medications, and treatment routines. Stay on top of doctors' appointments and medications by:

  • Creating a calendar of daily medication times, as well as weekly and monthly doctors’ appointments
  • Setting reminders for certain tasks, such as ordering refills of medication
  • Keeping a journal of symptoms to present to the doctor
  • Maintaining an up-to-date medication list
  • Organizing medical records and results

Keeping copies of medical records and other key information will make it easier for doctors to better understand the status or progression of your loved one's medical condition. If you’re visiting a new doctor or specialist, try to come prepared with as much critical information as you can to help make the initial visit productive.

 

Establish a Caregiver Support System to Help Avoid Burnout

When the demands of caring for a loved one extend beyond your physical, emotional, or financial capabilities, caregiver fatigue can quickly set in and cause stress-related health problems. Common signs of caregiver burnout include:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
  • Weight loss, poor appetite, or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Physical or emotional fatigue
  • Anger or increased irritability
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Frequently getting sick
  • Increased alcohol, tobacco, or prescription medication use

To help avoid caregiver fatigue, identify a solid caregiver support system you can rely on to help with the ins and outs of tending to your loved one's daily needs. Your support system can include close family members, friends, your spouse, or neighbors who may be willing to step in.

This support system can either provide a few hours of assistance so you can tend to other personal matters or help divide the daily workload between multiple people to help make the process a little easier on everyone. For example, one person can be responsible for cleaning the house, while another can be in charge of creating meal plans and scheduling food deliveries. Overall, find a system that works for you and your support network in order to best care for your loved one.

Remember, you are not alone. Even if you are the sole caregiver for your loved one, you can still have a support network to help with your emotional well-being. Even just having a friend to talk to about your worries, concerns, or struggles can help ease the strain of being a caregiver.

 

Remember to Take Care of Yourself, Too

Caring for yourself is one of the most critical aspects of being a first-time caregiver. When you make time to care for your needs, your care recipient will also benefit.

Here are a few ways you can practice taking better care of yourself to reduce the likelihood of caregiver fatigue:

  • Give yourself a much-needed break to relax and recharge from time to time so you can resume your caregiver responsibilities fully refreshed and energized.
  • Spend time doing something you really enjoy, even if it's only for an hour or two.
  • Make time for other important relationships to maintain a healthy perspective.
  • Take time to eat healthy, balanced meals, and exercise on a regular basis to reduce stress.
  • Reach out for help when you need it.

 

Plan for Respite Care

If the demands of being a caregiver ever become too burdensome, respite care is available to help make your job a little easier. Respite care service is a short-term option that provides temporary relief to caregivers, allowing them to take much-needed breaks from caregiver responsibilities while ensuring their loved ones are still being taken care of. Respite caregivers are trained and equipped to assist with the activities of daily living including companionship, personal hygiene tasks, meal preparation, medication management, light housekeeping, and other essential services.

This type of service can take place within your own home, at respite care facilities offering overnight stays, or in adult daycare centers. Depending on how long you need, respite care services can be by the hour, by the day, or even up to a couple of weeks, so you can get time back to handle other responsibilities while having peace of mind that your loved one is being cared for properly.

Hopefully, the above tips for first-time caregivers will help you better prepare for your new role as a caregiver. For more caregiving resources, contact us today.