Advice Assisted Living

How Caregivers Can Be More Effective Advocates

Woman pushing senior man in wheelchair outdoors

Being a caregiver is not easy and it is not something everyone chooses to do. But it is important and can certainly make a huge difference.

Typically, the primary caregiver is a spouse, partner, parent or adult child. Caregivers commonly take on the responsibilities of their loved one and still provide for themselves and other family members. Caregivers are committed to the well-being of the person and help ensure they get superior care. Caregivers also must take care of themselves.

There are close to 65 million caregivers in this country alone. The estimated monetary value of family caregivers’ contributions was at about $450 billion in 2009, although the real value of caregivers far exceeds any dollar amount.

Caregivers must take care of themselves, too

Taking care of yourself often takes a back seat when you are a caregiver. But to be a successful and solid caregiver, you must take care of yourself. It is pretty simple: When your needs are taken care of, the person you care for benefits as well.

Older caregivers are not the only ones who put their health and well-being in jeopardy. If you are a Baby Boomer who assumed a caregiver role while juggling work and raising children, you face an increased risk for depression, chronic illness and a possible decline in quality of life.

Despite these risks, family caregivers of any age are less likely than non-caregivers to practice preventive health care and self-care behavior. Regardless of age, sex, and race and ethnicity, caregivers report problems attending to their own health and well-being while managing caregiving responsibilities. Those include sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, failure to exercise, failure to stay in bed when necessary and putting off getting needed medical appointments for themselves.

Some ideas to help take care of yourself include developing your own personal support plan ahead of time, ask for help, learn or update caregiving skills, join a support group, make use of available resources, plan your own care and most importantly, learn how to manage stress.

Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster. But caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding experience.

Tips for caregivers

Caregivers should take time and recharge the batteries every so often. Here are some tips for caregivers:

  • You are not alone. Seek support and dialogue with other caregivers.
  • Take care of your own health so you can be strong enough to take care of others even if it’s just a quick walk after dinner.
  • Accept offers of help. Don’t be too proud to say you need help.
  • Learn how to communicate well with medical staff.
  • Take breaks to ensure you are rested and ready to help others.
  • Watch for signs of fatigue and get professional help when needed.
  • Be open to technology and new ways to do tasks.
  • Organize medical information so it is current and at hand.
  • Keep legal documents in order.
  • Give yourself credit for doing a tough job.

Tasks and roles of a caregiver

Honest communication is essential between a caregiver and the person being cared for. That communication also transcends to the doctors working with them. Direct, open dialogue about the extent to which treatment is working is critical. Since the person cannot always speak for him or herself, being an advocate is a definite role for a caregiver and an important one.

Daily activities such as bathing, dressing, mealtime support also are tasks a caregiver will become accustomed to. At times a caregiver may also assist with preparing meals, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and paying bills.

Caregivers are also tasked with providing support and encouragement for their family member or loved one. Communication is key in the relationship between a caregiver and a resident. Open and honest communication takes time to establish. Building trust should be one of the first steps. Residents are sometimes overwhelmed by emotional or physical turmoil. Caregivers must remain empathetic to the situation at all times.

When caregivers are present for meetings with nurses or doctors, they should take notes, ask questions and assist loved ones in making decisions. Caregivers may also be asked to order or pick up medication, provide transportation to and from appointments, and help handle scheduling, billing or insurance questions.

There are other medical processes such as exercises, physical therapy and injections that may be required, and that the caregiver may be expected to facilitate.

Caregiver resources

The term caregiver support group sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. It’s important to talk to people with similar concerns, responsibilities and daily challenges/rewards.

Here is just one place to get resources online.

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