What is Care Giving?
Caregiving generally refers to the unpaid care given by persons to their sick family members. It can take many forms but often occurs in the home of the caregiver or the home of the one being cared for. Caregiving may be a short-term commitment because of an acute illness or injury or may continue for many years based on a chronic or degenerative condition. Despite spending many hours every week caring for a sick family member, many people do not think of themselves as caregivers at all! Maybe a little more information will help you understand who a caregiver is, how you become one, and what you can do to be a good caregiver.
What is a Caregiver?
It’s important to understand that being a caregiver often creeps up on you without you knowing about it. You can start off by simply dropping by your mom’s house to help her with laundry, to take your dad to his doctor’s appointment, or driving your grandparents to the grocery store because they can no longer drive. Soon you find yourself cooking all the meals, refilling prescriptions, and grocery shopping for your loved one all by yourself. As time wears on, you find yourself doing more and more to help, until one day you realize that you have made a full-on commitment to taking care of someone else.
You are now a caregiver.
It’s important to understand that caregiving is often required for someone who has undergone a major health event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or some other accident that has left them immobile or in need of assistance to live. But caregiving can also happen in smaller, less-sudden instances, such as the day when you realized your day’s memory lapses are becoming dangerous or your grandmother needs help washing dishes. Then you gradually slip into the caregiver role and it’s difficult to impossible to slide back out.
Spouses, partners, adult children, parents, or some other relative (such as siblings, aunts, nieces or nephews, in-laws grandchildren, etc.), friends, or neighbors are all capable of falling into the caregiver role. It’s important to notice that you are a caregiver in order to properly and healthily navigate this intense role.
What Does a Caregiver Do?
It’s important to note that you are rarely trained to be a caregiver, and as such, your role as a caregiver might be entirely different from someone else’s role as a caregiver. Often it depends on the needs of the person being cared for. Here are some of the most common tasks that caregivers complete:
- Buy groceries
- Cook, clean, and do laundry
- Provide transportation from one location to another (sometimes by car; sometimes from the chair to the bed and vice versa)
- Help the care receiver take medicine, get dressed, take a shower
- Perform medical interventions, such as injections, feeding tubes, wound treatments, etc.
- Arrange medical appointments and take the care receiver to them
- Discuss with doctors, nurses, and others to understand the needs of the care receiver
- Handle care receivers finances and other legal matters
- Be a companion
- Be a (usually) unpaid aide, often on call 24/7
If you do many of these things, or a list of other caregiving type tasks, then you’re a caregiver. Try making a list of your duties in order to clarify not only to yourself but to other family members who might not understand the efforts you’re making.
How to be a Good Caregiver
While it might sound odd, the most important step to being a good caregiver is to take care of yourself! You cannot possibly take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself first, so be sure all of your needs–such as proper sleep, good food, and your own support system–are well established before taking on the responsibility to care for someone else. You are not expected to be perfect, or to care for your loved one perfectly, and you have a right to all of the emotions you’re sure to feel throughout the caregiving process. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the caregiving tasks, but here are some things you can do to help alleviate that stress:
- Identify yourself as a caregiver. Establish your responsibilities and boundaries
- Understand your loved one’s health condition–either in the form of a proper diagnosis or other information–so you know what they need
- Learn what skills are necessary to care for someone with their diagnosis. For instance, caring for someone with alzheimer’s disease is different than caring for someone with chronic heart disease
- Identify resources available to you, both personal and in the community.
- Bring family and friends in to discuss you being a caregiver, and be sure to keep them up to date on current events
- Find support for yourself, and for your loved one, and remember that you are not alone.
It’s beneficial to understand that there are many side effects to becoming a caregiver. Not only will a lot of your time escape into the needs of the care receiver, but you might experience a wide array of new emotions. Depression is one of the most common emotions of long-term caregivers and you should be sure to address this symptom if it ever occurs. Remember that caring for yourself is vital to your being able to care for anyone else. Set realistic expectations, learn about their illness, accept help from others, and feel free to say “no” to things you cannot do.