Tips On... Being a Caregiver

by Edyth Ann Knox
More About Edyth Ann…

When most of us think of the “caregiver,” we think of Florence Nightingale or Mother Teresa who forgoes all personal needs and desires, and smilingly, single-handedly, and effortlessly cares for those who are in need. Some confuse being a caregiver with being co-dependent. Both of these images are wrong. In real life, caregivers are Everyman and Everywoman. We come from all walks of life, we cry, we hurt, sometimes we get mad, and sometimes we even will YELL! Being an effective caregiver requires that we acknowledge our role and embrace both the joys and pains of caring for a dependent loved one.

1) Caregivers are never martyrs: A caregiver never puts her health and well being beneath others. We know that we are human and have limitations. We know that we are just as valuable as those we are caring for. Many times a caregiver ends up putting some of her personal life, desires, and goals on the back burner to meet the needs of her loved one.

2) Caregivers go through all the emotions: When caring for others, you know that you are going to feel all the emotions that anyone else feels. A caregiver will feel frustrated, upset and maybe even angry when they answer the same questions 50 times in the last hour. We are going to feel both love and pain. All these emotions are normal, even the ones where you feel you just want to run away.

3) Caregivers include themselves in all care plans: When planning for our loved ones, we will always include our own care needs. We know that the stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease or a terminal illness is going to put a lot of stress on us, especially physically. We will make sure we eat right, get adequate sleep and go to the doctor regularly. We are willing to adjust how we care for others based on our own physical and emotional health.

4) Caregivers willingly accept assistance: This can be one of the hardest points for most caregivers to meet, however we know that we need help in caring for someone else. We will check out all care options, accept offers of assistance from family/friends and others (that are reasonable), and attempts to work closely with doctors and other health care professionals involved in the care of our loved ones.

5) Caregivers include family/friends: This also can be especially hard since many times the caregiver feels that family should be able to give care in the same manner that they do. We realize that some can not, yet we find ways for other family members to contribute in the care of our loved ones regardless. We also strive to accept others and their way of caring (and this acceptance is so hard at times) even though we may feel that the others do not accept our method of caregiving.

6) Caregivers give take respite: Respite is one of the most valuable tools for a caregiver. Respite is needed, especially in 24/7 care, for us to maintain a healthy attitude and state of mind, a sense of independence and individuality, and private time. It also allows the body time to recover from the stresses of caregiving.

7) Caregivers enjoy personal interests: There are times when our needs and what we perceive as our loved one’s needs come into conflict. We will have times when we need to say "This time my needs come first." This is especially true when we feel the effects of the emotional roller coaster ride, the stress of the demands of our loved one. There are times when we must put the needs of others on the back burner to meet our immediate personal needs.

8) Caregivers know their limits: We know that we have limits as far as our abilities, the level of stress we can endure, and our personal patience. We willingly accept these limits and recognize that we can rarely change them. We know that we can not be all things, not even some of the times.

9) Caregivers advocate for their loved ones: The care of an aging person involves more than just their physical day to day care. It often requires you to be an advocate to ensure they get appropriate services, have their needs meet and see their rights respected. Often the one you are caring for can not tell others what their needs are, they can not stand up for themselves, and need your assistance to make sure they are not ignored. This is something they depend heavily on us for. Caregivers are generally the ones who know their loved one the best, including their needs and wishes.

10) Caregiving does not end with placement in a facility: If we decide that it is time to place our loved one into a care facility, we must realize that does not end our role as a caregiver. Facility care means the end of doing the daily physical care, but our loved ones still need our love and assistance. We remain a strong advocate, provide emotional support and care, and spend time reminiscing and enjoying activities.

Additional Reading:

- Where is the Joy in Alzheimer’s Caregiving?
- Caring for the Caregiver: Promoting Your Own Wellbeing
- Understanding and Acknowledging Negative Emotions
- Overcoming Negative Emotions
- Respite: What It Is, What It Isn’t
- Support Groups Are Essential to Caregiver Wellbeing
- When All Else Fails: The Anger Wall on ALZwell 

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