Updated: Jul 2, 2019
If you’re a family member or friend providing unpaid care to a loved one with a physical, cognitive or mental health condition, then you’re a caregiver—a vital resource, a critical healthcare partner and an individual with your own needs.
Taking on the role of being a caregiver often means balancing other responsibilities, such as work, children and maintaining other personal relationships. Caregivers themselves may need support and assistance to perform their caregiving duties, as providing such care can have substantial financial, physical, psychological and emotional effects.
As a healthcare consultant, I talk to caregivers everyday. I have noticed that most caregivers face the same challenges. There are ways to overcome some challenges and ways to simplify others. Here's my list of suggestions for caregivers:
1. Seek support from other caregivers
There are a number of community support services and local peer groups that cater to caregivers providing care to loved ones with specific health conditions. If in-person meetings are not for you, turn to online support forums and social media groups.
2. It's OK to ask for help
You don't have to do everything yourself. Turn to friends and family for support or help with certain things. Ask a neighbour if they can walk the dog, or ask a friend if they can prepare a casserole for you. Most people are willing to help out with things like these when they know you are a caregiver.
3. Practice selfcare
No matter what, you have to take care of yourself to be able to care for someone else. Look after your own physical and mental well-being. Try to exercise, sleep, eat well and make some time for yourself. Your "ME" time, will help your body and soul rejuvenate. Spending just 15 minutes a day on yourself has shown to help.
4. Watch out for signs of depression
Depression is not just about feeling negative emotions, it can manifest in different ways for different people. If you notice yourself experiencing any of the following, you need to be mindful of the fact that you could be developing depression.
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Pessimism and hopelessness
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
- Irritability and restlessness
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
If you think you have depression, please seek medical attention as soon as possible, because you can't be a caregiver if you yourself are unwell.
To be more efficient at performing your caregiving duties and ensuring proper care for your loved one, here are some things that could help:
1. Learn how to communicate effectively with healthcare providers
Learn how to communicate effectively and make the most of your time with doctors. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Go to appointments with all the necessary reports and paperwork.
2. Hire help
If necessary, hire a health advocate to facilitate better communication with healthcare providers, help manage medical bureaucracy or accompany your loved one to appointments. If you can afford to, hire someone to help with household chores.
3. Organize medical information
Keep reports and test results organized. If possible, keep hard copies and soft ones too. Visit the Pharmacist and make sure your loved one's medication list is up-to-date. Keep track of appointments, refills and repeat prescriptions by marking them on a calendar.
4. Organize legal documents
It's never too early to prepare legal documents like Power Of Attorney, or DNR orders (Do Not Resuscitate). Estate planning, Funeral planning, Financial planning and securing insurance for relevant issues is also a good idea. Discuss end of life care, organ donation, and cremation / burial options when you think the time is right. A good Estate Planner or a Lawyer specializing in Elder Law should be able to help you with these.
5. Use technology to your advantage
Smart phones, smart home systems, nanny cams and lots of other devices have the potential to save your time and energy. If your loved one is on home oxygen support and the noise of the machine hampers your sleep, use a nanny cam and sleep in the adjacent room. Use smart home systems like Echo Dot or Echo Plus to assist a loved one with physical disabilities or movement disorders. There's some pretty neat tech stuff out there, check it out.
I'd like to sign out on a positive note by sharing some of my favourite quotes on caregiving:
It is not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing - Mother Teresa
To care for those who once cared for us, is one of the highest honours - Tia Walker
Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway - Emory Austin
As always, feel free to connect with me or leave a comment.
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Improvements to the Employment Insurance (EI) program in order to better support workers who take time off work due to specific life events: www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2017/11/more_choice_and_flexibilityforfamiliesandcaregiversstartingdecem.html
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.