15 Tips for New Caregivers

According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, over 65 million Americans (or 29% of the U.S. adult population) serve as caregivers for an ill or disabled relative. Caring for a loved one can quickly become a full-time job, so it’s important to learn how to efficiently balance your newfound responsibilities. These fifteen tried-and-true tips will help you seamlessly transition into the world of caregiving.

Learn how to manage your stress.
Many Americans are unexpectedly thrown into the world of caregiving when a loved one falls ill. Because caregiving is not usually something most people plan for, it can be difficult to navigate the unforeseen responsibility and stress. In order to combat that stress, it’s important to take periodic breaks from caring for your family member to assess how you are feeling. If you are feeling incredibly discouraged and overwhelmed, it may be time to take a short break so you can recharge emotionally and mentally.

Divide the daily duties and responsibilities.
Because sick or elderly loved ones often need round-the-clock care, caregiving can easily become a full-time job. In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed and burnt out, you should try to divide the responsibilities with other family members. Perhaps you and your siblings can create a schedule of when each person will go to your parents’ home to cook meals and do laundry. Maybe your kids or nieces and nephews can pitch in to help for short periods of time. If you don’t have any other family members nearby, it may be necessary to hire a part-time professional caregiver to help out when you need to take a break.

Don’t isolate yourself.
Because caring for a family member can be an all-encompassing endeavor, it’s easy to isolate yourself from your other family members and friends. However, having a strong support system is especially important in the midst of a season like this. Be sure to schedule regular time to spend with close friends and other family members so that you do not become isolated.
Consider joining a caregiver support group.
Joining a caregiver support group is an excellent way to meet others who understand what you are going through. Most communities have local caregiver support groups, so try searching online or contacting someone from your local health department to find a group. Being involved in a caregiver support group will not only help you get out of the house; it will also help you forge meaningful relationships with people who understand what you are going through and can help you get through it. If you don’t have a caregiver support group in your area, you can join an online forum.

Set a daily routine.
Whether you simply stop by someone’s house in the morning to drop off soup and sandwiches before work or stay with them 24/7, it’s worthwhile to create a daily caregiving routine. Start by making a list of the things you need to take care of on both a daily basis (such as cooking and cleaning) and a weekly basis (such as grocery shopping and going to the doctor). Next, make a schedule that you can follow on a day-to-day basis. Having a set routine will make things easier for both you and your loved one.

Schedule personal time.
It’s important to take short breaks from caregiving to recharge your batteries. Even if you are caring for someone all day long, you can still schedule short personal breaks—such as when they are taking a nap. Allow that time to be a safe space in which you can truly rest. You may want to consider taking a quick nap, making some hot tea, reading a book, or going on a walk. These simple activities can give you some much needed alone time and help you feel rejuvenated.

Pay attention to your personal health.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in caring for your loved one that you neglect your own health. Remember that you need to be in tip-top shape to give your family member the best possible care. Be sure to schedule regular doctor’s appointments and checkups to make sure that you stay healthy and manage your stress level appropriately. Also, be sure to give yourself adequate time off to rest so you avoid getting sick. And never, ever underestimate the importance of simply taking a nap from time to time!

Educate yourself.
If your family member is suffering from a particular illness or disease, do some research to figure out the best ways to care for someone with that condition. It may help to read books about the topic, speak with knowledgeable health care providers from your local hospital or caregivers group, or read articles and blog posts from other caregivers. Understanding exactly what the illness or disease entails and how it can best be treated or dealt with will enable you to give your loved one the best possible care.

Create a safe space for your loved one.
Because older individuals are much more prone to accidents and falls, it’s a good idea to take necessary safety precautions to ensure they are safe and taken care of. Start by making sure that all floors and stairs have a non-slip surface so your family member can easily and safely maneuver around the home. Next, keep floors and living spaces clean so they do not accidentally trip on anything. Keep lights on at night so they can see if they need to get up to go to the bathroom. Make sure that the home is a safe space for your loved one to stay.

Build relationships with physicians.
Since you will likely be the main person responsible for taking your family member to medical appointments, it’s important to build solid relationships with their physicians. Take an active role in your family member’s health care by asking questions, expressing concerns, and discussing the best treatment options available. Building a good relationship with your family member’s physicians will guarantee that you understand how their condition is progressing and how you can help them manage it. If you are also responsible for overseeing your family member’s medicine, you will need to make sure they are taking the correct dosage amounts on a regular basis. You will also need to plan trips to the drugstore to replenish the medicine as needed.

Encourage independence.
Even though your family member may need a significant amount of help to bathe, clean, or cook, you should still encourage them to be as independent as possible. Allowing your family member to be responsible for simple tasks that they can handle, such as making a sandwich, will help them feel a sense of purpose.

Help them stay connected.
As your loved one grows older and weaker, they may begin to feel ostracized from family members and friends who are busy with their own lives. Do your part to help them stay connected with their community by planning times that their family or friends can visit. If they are healthy enough to leave the home for short spells, consider planning weekly outings to local clubs, events, or libraries. This will help your loved one stay active and involved in the community. You may also want to buy them newspapers or books to read so they can stay up-to-date on what is happening in the world.

Be realistic.
Because caregiving can be so time-consuming, you may need to say no to other obligations that you can no longer handle, such as preparing holiday dinners or volunteering with a local non-profit. Take a realistic inventory of the activities you are involved in and decide whether or not you need to take a step back from a few of them for a season to better focus your energies on caring for your family member.

Orchestrate healthy meals and exercise.
Talk with your family member’s physicians about any dietary restrictions they have. Whether you are planning to make homemade meals or buy ready-made meals at the store, try to make sure that your family member is eating a healthy and balanced diet. You may also want to have them start taking vitamins and supplements to stay healthy. Another simple idea is to buy Ensure or similar protein shakes so they can have a healthy, ready-make snack whenever they get hungry.

Practice patience.
Caring for an elderly or ill loved one can sometimes be a challenging process, but do your best to remain patient and loving in every situation. Remember that this is a difficult and scary transition for your family member as well, and do all that you can to help them feel safe, loved, and appreciated. Remember to take everything one day at a time. Don’t worry about the future; instead, appreciate the present moments that you have together in the present.