Many people are caring for a chronically ill or disabled spouse, parent, or other family member. Caregiving can be a rewarding experience, especially when you know that your care makes a positive difference. But caregiving can be difficult. There are three tips to being a good caregiver:
- Take care of yourself.
- Don't help too much. Let the person do as much as he or she can.
- Ask for help.
This topic will tell you more about these tips and how they can help both you and the person you are caring for.
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Caregiver Tip No. 1: Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself is your most important step as a caregiver. Caregiving can be stressful, even in the best of situations.
But when caregivers take time to care for themselves, good things usually happen:
- They stay healthier.
- They feel better about themselves.
- They have more energy and enthusiasm and can keep giving care.
Here are some important things you need to find time to do—just for yourself:
- Take a class on caregiving. You will meet other caregivers and learn new ways to deal with challenging situations. To find classes in your area, contact the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org).
- Get some exercise. You may feel better and sleep better if you exercise. One way is to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week. Experts say to aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate activity a week.footnote 1
- Eat healthy meals and snacks. When you are busy giving care, it may seem easier to eat fast food than to prepare healthy meals. But healthy meals are easy to prepare, and healthy eating will give you more energy to carry you through each day.
- Get enough sleep. If you are not getting enough sleep at night, take a nap during the day. Plan to get at least one full night's rest each week.
- Make time for an activity you enjoy—reading, listening to music, painting or doing crafts, playing an instrument—even if you can only do it for a few minutes a day. If you like to go to church activities or take classes, ask a friend or family member to stay with your loved one for an hour or two one or two times a week so you can do those things.
- Get regular medical checkups. This includes dental checkups. Even if you have always been healthy, you need to stay healthy. Know about the signs of depression, and watch for them not only in the person you are caring for but also in yourself. If you have feelings of lingering sadness or hopelessness, talk with your doctor. For more information, see the topic Depression.
Caregiver Tip No. 2: Don't Help Too Much
Even if they don't admit it, people like to help themselves. Every time you do something for a person that the person could have done without help, there is a double loss. First, your effort may have been wasted. Second, the person has missed an opportunity to help himself or herself.
As a caregiver, your highest goal is to give the person you are caring for the power and the permission to be in control of his or her own life (as much as possible). Every act your loved one makes to maintain independence is a victory for you as a caregiver.
Here are some things you can do to empower the person you are caring for to do things independently:
- Let the person make as many decisions as possible. For example, let the person decide what to wear, what to eat, or when to go to bed. Help him or her keep as much control as possible.
- Simplify. For example, if you are caring for a person who has mild dementia, divide complex tasks into simpler steps for him or her: First, get out the cereal box. Next, get out the milk and the bowl, and so forth.
- Make it easy. One of the most productive things a caregiver can do is to make changes in the person's home and provide tools that will allow the person to do things without help.
- Allow for mistakes and less-than-perfect results. The hardest thing about letting someone do something without help is knowing that you could do it better or faster. Mistakes are okay.
- Reward both the effort and the result. Help the person feel good about doing things on his or her own.
- Give the person responsibility to care for something. Studies show that nursing home residents who are asked to care for pets or plants live longer and become more independent.
- Match tasks with abilities. Identify the person's skills, and try to match them with tasks that the person can do on his or her own. If you aren't sure what tasks are reasonable, talk with the person's doctor.
Caregiver Tip No. 3: Ask for Help
The best answer to the question, "Is there anything you need?" is "Yes."
"Yes, I need someone to stay here so I can go out." Or "Yes, I could really use a nap." Letting others help can make your caregiving easier. Know where to find help when you need it. The more support you have, the more successful you are likely to be.
When family or friends offer to lend a hand, be ready with specific ideas. Let them pick something they would like to do. For example, you could ask them to:
- Pick up a few items at the grocery store.
- Fix a meal or do some cleaning or yard work.
- Stay with the person you care for so you can go out for a while.
There are other ways to find support. For example:
- Hire a teenager or older adult to help for a few hours a day.
- Find a grocery store that delivers.
- Hire a home health aide or personal care assistant.
- Sign up for homemaker or chore services or "Meals on Wheels."
Services that may be useful to caregivers include the following:
Respite care may be the most important service for caregivers. Respite services provide someone who will stay with the person while you get out of the house for a few hours. If the person you are caring for needs routine medical care, you may be able to arrange to have the person stay in a nursing home for a few days while you get away for a break.
Adult day centers are "drop-off" sites where a person who does not need individual supervision can stay during the day. This service is usually offered during working hours and may or may not be available on weekends. Meals, personal care services, and social activities are provided.
Adult foster care or board-and-care homes are private homes where older adults receive around-the-clock personal care, supervision, and meals. Some states require board-and-care homes to be licensed.
Nursing homes generally have two levels of care. Intermediate care includes assistance with using the toilet, dressing, and personal care for people who do not have serious medical conditions. Skilled nursing care is usually for people who have just come from the hospital or for others who have medical conditions that require more intensive nursing care. Some facilities have special units for people with dementia.
Hospice programs provide social, personal, and medical services for terminally ill people who wish to spend their remaining time at home or in an environment less formal than a hospital or nursing home.
Support groups give you a chance to discuss problems or concerns about caregiving with other caregivers.
To learn whether these services are available in your community, look under "Senior Citizen Services" in the Yellow Pages.
Take pride in your efforts. Being a caregiver is not easy, and those who do it are special. Following the tips for caregiving can help you feel good about yourself and the care you provide. Remember:
- Take care of yourself by exercising regularly, getting proper rest and nutrition, and having regular medical checkups. Taking care of yourself includes taking time off to take part in pleasant, nurturing activities.
- Help the person you care for to be as independent as possible.
- Recognize when you need extra help, and accept support from others. A helping hand at the right time can make all the difference.
- Reducing Medication Costs
- Elder Abuse
- Healthy Eating
- Alcohol and Drug Use
- Support Groups and Social Support
- Fitness: Getting and Staying Active
- Stress Management
- Hospital Discharge Planning
- Stress Relief and Relaxation
- Keeping Track of Medicines
- Alzheimer's Disease
- Confusion, Memory Loss, and Altered Alertness
- Quick Tips: Reducing the Stress of Caregiving
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/default.aspx.
Other Works Consulted
- Family Caregiver Alliance (2003). Fact Sheet: Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers. Available online: http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/print_friendly.jsp?nodeid=847.
- Family Caregiver Alliance (2004). Fact Sheet: Caring for Adults With Cognitive and Memory Impairments. Available online: http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/print_friendly.jsp?nodeid=392.
- Family Caregiver Alliance (accessed November 2008). A Guide to Taking Care of Yourself. Available online: http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/print_friendly.jsp?nodeid=667.
- Pinquart M, Sörensen S (2007). Correlates of physical health of informal caregivers: A meta-analysis. Journals of Gerontology, 62B(2): 126–137.
- Rakel RE, Strauch EM (2011). Care of the dying patient. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 53–72. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Stiles M, Walsh K (2011). Care of the elderly patient. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., p. 52. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Vitaliano PP, et al. (2003). Is caregiving hazardous to one's physical health? A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 129(6): 946–972.
Current as of: April 1, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse
Current as of: April 1, 2019