Tips for New Caregivers


Tips for New Caregivers


Every caregiving situation is different — starting with the way it comes to be. For some, the transition to becoming a caregiver happens slowly. You may notice an increase in your loved one needing help when it comes to everyday tasks or getting to and from doctors’ appointments. For others, you might find yourself becoming a caregiver quite quickly, perhaps triggered by a major life event that has impacted your loved one’s health.

Whether you’ve always planned to become a caregiver or it happened unexpectedly, it can be difficult to know where to start. From doctors’ appointments, to finances, to difficult conversations, there will be plenty of learning and adjusting for you and your loved one along the way. As someone who has been in your shoes, as the former primary caregiver to both of my parents, I’d like to share a few caregiver tips that helped both me and my parents make the transition to this new stage of our lives. 

Establish a support system for you and your loved one 

Making sure your loved one has the appropriate amount of day-to-day support for their needs is foundational as you begin your caregiving journey. Touch base with your family members and friends, and identify the support they’re comfortable offering you and your loved one. While some are fortunate to live near an aging loved one, others are not. If you find yourself in the latter situation, look to your local community and online resources for assistance. The National Council on Aging offers BenefitsCheckUp® — a free online tool to connect older adults with resources such as nutrition assistance, medication costs, and assistive technology programs.

While it may be easier to put off the support-system conversation until you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’ll feel relieved and be better able to manage all your caregiving duties if you have a support system in place from the beginning to lend a hand when, not if, your loved one — and you — need it.

Stay up to date on individual health needs 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 60 percent have at least two chronic conditions. This includes conditions such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes — all of which require long-term management and close communication between the individual and their health care provider. 

As a caregiver, helping your loved one manage their health care is critical, particularly if they have experienced a life-changing health event. With my parents, I found it helpful to create a caregiving binder that contained all my parents’ basic health information for both emergency and nonemergency situations. This made it easy to reference notes and medical history to ensure we had the latest information at our fingertips. 

Have fun with it 

While caregiving can be challenging at times, it can also be one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. As a younger man, my father loved to bowl. However, as he got older, we had to think outside of the box for activities to keep him active. I introduced him to Wii bowling, which brought him — and me — a lot of joy. 

Helping him find an activity he enjoyed also had the added benefit of keeping him physically active. According to the Health Care Insights Study by CVS Health, 23 percent of those 65+ don’t currently have any health goals—the highest percentage of any age range sampled. It’s clear from these findings—and my personal experience—that getting your loved one started on their health journey is the hardest part.

Seeing firsthand how my father was able to adapt and find joy reminded me of how lucky caregivers are to play such an important role in their loved one’s lives. Start by working together to set goals for your loved one’s health and identifying tangible ways to achieve them. 

Don’t forget to care for the caregiver

According to the COPE Initiative, 70 percent of parents and caregivers of adults reported adverse mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, but it can also take a toll on your physical and emotional health. 

When I was a caregiver, I set aside time each day to take care of myself by eating healthy, exercising and taking part in other activities that brought me joy and helped manage stressors. Another important reminder for caregivers is to schedule routine care checkups and keep your own health in check. By focusing on yourself, you can ensure you’re showing up every day with a clear mind for your loved one.

Remember that communication is key

Ongoing, open communication among caregivers, loved ones, and providers keeps everyone on the same page. Find a method of communication that allows you to navigate difficult conversations and make shared decisions to manage care and meet health goals. 

If you ever feel that emotions are preventing clear decisions, try using your primary care physician as a vehicle for delivering important health-related messages. As a former caregiver, I found it helpful to email my parents’ primary care physician in advance of the visit asking to emphasize certain things. Sometimes, a trusted outside perspective makes all the difference. Here are some helpful tips for talking to doctors that can help you get the most out of your time together.

Caring for an aging loved one can be among the most challenging and rewarding of experiences. While it was difficult, I’m so thankful for the time I had with my parents. It can be tough to do in the moment, but taking time to reflect on your journey and cherish the time you have together can make all the difference. Hopefully, these tips I’ve learned along the way can help you start on your journey to becoming a caregiver. 

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