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How to Become a Caregiver for a Family Member: 7 Tips for a Successful Start accent

May 8, 2024 | By

Consider all the roles you occupy in your life. Are you a spouse? A parent? A team member? A friend? If you’ve recently added “caregiver” to that list of roles, you’re not alone.

Becoming a caregiver to a loved one may not be something you planned, but it’s a common role in many families. As with other roles, caregiving can bring more richness and fulfillment to life. However, it can also require significant time, energy, and attention.

Keep reading to learn how to become a caregiver for a family member in a way that prioritizes your needs as well as theirs and enriches your relationship.

The Crucial Role of Family Caregivers

As they grow older, people may find themselves caring for a loved one—often a spouse or parent. According to the most recently available data, 22.3% of adults reported providing care or assistance to a friend or family member in the past 30 days. Even among middle-aged and older adults who are not currently caregivers, 17.2% expect to provide care or assistance to a friend or family member in the next two years.

Caring for an older family member can feel like a privilege in some ways, but it can also become a source of stress and fatigue. More than one-third of caregivers report providing 20 or more hours per week of care, and many also juggle careers and other family obligations.

Because of the challenges inherent in this role, it’s helpful to approach the responsibility thoughtfully and craft a solid plan to help you care for your loved one and for yourself.

How to Become a Caregiver for a Family Member

If you’re taking on a caregiving role, consider these tips to help both you and your loved one successfully make the transition:

1. Learn about their needs.

Start by learning about your family member's medical conditions, medications, and any special needs. With your loved one’s permission, accompany them to at least some doctor’s appointments so you’re kept in the loop, and ask your loved one to explain the type of assistance they would like to receive from you. You may also want to research your loved one’s medical condition(s) so you’re better equipped to help.

2. Communicate openly to create a plan.

As you talk to your family member about their needs, encourage them to share their thoughts or concerns about the caregiving arrangement. As much as possible, show respect for their wishes while also sharing your own wishes for their (and your) well-being. Work together to clarify expectations around the caregiving relationship as early as possible. For example, you shouldn’t assume your parent would prefer to move in with you as opposed to staying in their own home with assistance.

3. Establish a routine.

Once a plan is in place, collaborate with your loved one to create a daily and weekly routine that works for them and accounts for your other time commitments. Establishing a consistent schedule for meals, medication, and activities can provide stability and reduce anxiety for both you and your loved one—and it can help you divide your time strategically. Be prepared to rework this routine if the initial plan doesn’t work. You can expect some trial and error as you try to find the ideal routine for your family.

4. Reassess periodically.

What’s working well now may not be ideal a year (or even a few months) from now, so it’s best to remain flexible when dealing with changing circumstances or unexpected challenges. To avoid becoming stuck in a less-than-ideal routine or a dysfunctional dynamic, consider setting an expiration date on the initial plan you create with your loved one. For example, you might decide together that, in three months, you’ll discuss how things are going and whether you want to make any changes. Planning for this meeting in advance removes any awkwardness you or your loved one may otherwise feel about “rocking the boat” with concerns or requests for a change.

5. Encourage independence where it makes sense.

No one wants to feel like a burden, and our innate desire for independence doesn’t wane as we age. Although providing assistance when needed is important, you should also empower your loved one to maintain as much independence as possible. Consider their capabilities and limitations. Ask for their input to determine when and how it’s best to help and when you can take a step back to let them enjoy more autonomy and privacy.

6. Take care of yourself.

Caregiving can be physically and emotionally demanding and lead to burnout when caregivers ignore their own needs. Losing yourself in a caregiving role can be easy, and doing so is not good for you or your loved one. Take breaks, prioritize self-care, and lean on friends, family, or support groups to protect your own well-being while providing ongoing care to your loved one.

7. Take advantage of available resources and services.

Don't hesitate to seek assistance if you're unsure how to handle a situation or if your family member's needs are beyond your capabilities. This may include seeking:

  • A caregiving support group: A caregiver support program provides a venue to share concerns and receive emotional support and advice from peers who understand what you’re going through.
  • A senior living community: Community living (such as assisted living) is an excellent option to consider if your loved one requires ongoing care but would prefer to live in a community instead of receiving care from a family member.
  • Adult day services: Adult day services can enrich your family member’s life, providing an opportunity to socialize with peers while giving some respite to caregivers.
  • At-home services: If your loved one wants to stay in their home, you can augment or replace the care you’re providing by signing up for at-home services, which can include help with daily tasks and in-home medical support.

Senior living services can enhance your loved one’s quality of life and lift the weight of caregiving from your shoulders. Consider talking to your loved one about senior living options to see whether any of these services would be a good fit for their needs and preferences.

Find a Caregiving Arrangement Both You and Your Family Member Love

Understanding how to become a caregiver to a family member starts with keeping an open mind as you work together to find what works. Any transition can be challenging at first, but by collaborating with your loved one and considering all your options, you can hone in on a caregiving arrangement that allows you both to thrive. 

Want to learn more about senior living services your loved one could take advantage of from the comfort of their home? Read The Complete Guide to At-Home Services.

Learn more about at-home services in our complete guide!

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