Caregiver Tips

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Brightstar Care of MSC

For more information about the author, click to view their website: Brightstar Care

Posted on

Jun 10, 2024

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Florida - Sarasota, Bradenton & Charlotte Counties

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Our Tips to Excel at Caring for a Loved One

Being a caregiver means offering compassionate care for someone who needs it, whether due to aging, illness or disability. Family caregivers play a vital role in keeping their loved ones safe and healthy, but the job often goes beyond that. They're also companions who offer a friendly listening ear when needed and a reassuring presence when making important decisions. BrightStar Care aims to appreciate and support caregivers all year long. If you are a caregiver or know someone who is, be sure to check out our tips for high-quality care and avoiding caregiver burnout.

Questions Every Caregiver Should Ask 

Over 40 million people(Opens in a new window) in the United States provided unpaid care to someone in the last 12 months. This statistic shows the massive need for caregivers in our country. However, new family caregivers often don't know where to start when they begin caring for a loved one. Below, you'll find several questions to get you started as a compassionate caregiver.

Ask About Support Systems and Resources

First, you'll want to pin down details about your loved one's support system. Ask these questions of yourself and your loved one:

  1. Will you be the only one providing care for your loved one?
  2. If anyone, who will be helping you? Do you have these individuals' names, addresses and emergency phone numbers?
  3. Do other family members or friends live nearby? Will they be helping you provide care? Does your loved one spend any time with them?
  4. Does your loved one receive financial, personal or medical assistance? Is this assistance temporary or permanent?
  5. Does your loved one have adequate insurance? What services aren't covered?
  6. Does your loved one have a will or trust? Could you locate these documents if needed?
  7. Who are their medical providers? When are your loved one’s appointments? 
  8. Who will be providing care? When will they be providing it? Who will be managing a schedule of who will be providing care when? 
  9. What is your loved one’s monthly budget? What insurance or government programs are supporting them? 

Understanding a Day in Their Life

Next, consider your loved one's current routines and standard of living. Think about these questions to get a good idea of their daily needs:

  1. How does your loved one get around? Do they use assistive devices like canes, stability bars or walkers? How often are they used, and for what types of activities?
  2. What activities make up their daily routine? Which are more difficult? Activities might include climbing stairs, bathing, cooking, cleaning, etc.
  3. Does your loved one leave their home? If so, when and why? (i.e., to visit a senior center, socializing, church)What organizations or faith-based groups does your loved one belong to? Write down associated names, addresses and phone numbers.
  4. What are your loved one's hobbies? What do they like to watch, read and do?
  5. Does your loved one have special dietary needs(Opens in a new window)? Can they accommodate these needs alone? Do they need assistance with shopping or cooking?
  6. Does your loved one have pets? Are they still able to care for these pets?
  7. What medications does your loved one take? Note all medications, dosage and when they should be taken.
  8. Does your loved one have trouble taking medications? How so?

Consider Their Everyday Surroundings 

Finally, it's time to think about what day-to-day life looks like for your loved one and what kind of environment they live in. Ask the following questions to get a clear picture of their surroundings:

  1. Where does your loved one live? Do they have a house, apartment or condo? Is their environment urban or rural?
  2. Is the size of their living quarters appropriate? Is their home too big, too small or just right?
  3. Are there any barriers(Opens in a new window) (i.e., stairs, rough walkways, heavy doors) that make living in their home difficult? How can these barriers be removed?
  4. Are your loved one's living quarters secure? Are they at risk for unwelcome visitors like solicitors or scammers?
  5. How far does your loved one live from neighbors?
  6. Does your loved one need transportation to the grocery store, church, social events, etc.? 

Seek Resources to Provide the Best Care 

Caregiving truly takes a village. Once you have a clear understanding of your loved one's support system and daily life, seek resources to fill the gaps in your knowledge. Having places to look for reliable information goes a long way to alleviating a family caregiver's burden. Try these resources to help you provide exceptional care:

  • Eldercare Locator:(Opens in a new window) This locator offered by the U.S. Administration on Aging is an easy way to find services for older adults.
  • National Council on Aging:(Opens in a new window) NCOA is recognized as a national expert on aging and works to help older folks meet the challenges associated with getting older.
  • National Association of Area Agencies on Aging:(Opens in a new window) This organization works with care agencies and assists them with building their capabilities.
  • Family Caregiver Alliance:(Opens in a new window) The Family Caregiver Alliance is a nonprofit organization working to meet the needs of family members providing long-term care to their loved ones at home.
  • Caregiver Action Network:(Opens in a new window) This organization aims to support caregivers and ensure they don't feel isolated and burnt out.
  • National Alliance for Caregiving:(Opens in a new window) The National Alliance for Caregiving focuses on improving the lives of family caregivers. Their resources may help reduce caregiver stress.
  • Access to Respite Care and Help:(Opens in a new window) Respite care is crucial for families across the U.S. This nonprofit promotes these services for family caregivers and their loved ones.
  • American Association of Caregiving Youth:(Opens in a new window) This organization recognizes and supports children who care for ill, aging and disabled family members.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:(Opens in a new window) The Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicated to assisting people who have served in the military.
  • Home Care Guide:(Opens in a new window) BrightStar Care is proud to offer numerous resources for those struggling with caregiver stress. This resource provides things to consider when looking for caregiving services for family members. 

Don't Forget to Take Care of Yourself! 

Caring for the caregiver is just as important as providing impeccable care to aging or ill individuals. But between work and caring for loved ones full-time, finding time for oneself can feel like an insurmountable challenge. If you're feeling stressed and burnt out, try our self-care tips:

List Self-Care Activities You Enjoy

The first step to avoiding burnout is to figure out just what you'd like to do with your free time. Make a list of the activities that help you recharge after a stressful day. Write as many as you can think of, then pencil in time every day to do at least one. Here are some ideas for daily self-care:

  • Take a short walk, stretch or do light exercise
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Watch your favorite TV show or read a book
  • Take a long shower or bath (bonus points for using aromatherapy!)
  • Play with a pet
  • Write in a journal
  • Have a cup of tea or enjoy another favorite beverage
  • Try a new recipe
  • Meditate or pray

Set Achievable Goals for Yourself

Goal setting is a great way to minimize caregiver burnout symptoms. What do you hope to achieve in the next week? What about in a month? Set achievable, measurable goals that don't raise your risk of guilt or negativity. Consider making self-care one of your goals. For example, you could say that you'll read for at least 15 minutes before bed or try one new recipe every week.

Reward Yourself Often

You've done an excellent job caring for your family member and deserve a reward! When you accomplish a goal, conquer a challenge or just make it through a tough day, be sure to reward yourself with something that brings you joy. Your reward could be something like the following:

  • A massage, pedicure or facial
  • A fancy cup of coffee
  • A night out with friends
  • Your favorite meal
  • A day off work
  • A new book or movie
  • A day at the spa or hair salon

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself! You spend most of your time having compassion for others, but it's essential to have the same understanding for your own feelings. Forget about being perfect and use mistakes as opportunities to grow and improve. Caregiving is challenging and known to cause stress and burnout—don't make it harder for yourself with negative self-talk. Your best is enough!

Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting enough sleep is easier said than done. However, we highly recommend making sleep a priority. If you have trouble falling asleep, try turning off your TV and phone at least an hour before bed. Make sure the room is cool, quiet and dark to promote restful sleep. If you're still struggling to get a good night's sleep, try incorporating breathing techniques or meditation into your bedtime routine.

Focus on a Proper Diet 

Eating healthy is crucial for family caregivers. A proper diet will ensure you have enough energy to provide the best care possible. Introduce lots of whole grains, fruits and veggies to your diet, and minimize sugary drinks and processed foods. Don't forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day. We know stress eating is a tempting coping mechanism, but a healthy diet will make you feel so much better in the long run.

Make Others Aware of Your Needs

Many people try to stuff their feelings down and deal with them alone. But no one will know you need help if you don't express your feelings! Don't be afraid to communicate your struggles and remember to reach out to your support system before hitting your breaking point. Simply having someone to vent to can reduce burnout.

Join a Caregiver Support Group 

Sometimes, talking to friends and family members isn't enough. In that case, consider joining an in-person or online support group. These groups will connect you with professionals and other family caregivers who know what you're going through. Chatting with these people can be extremely therapeutic and give you new ideas for how to care for your loved one. You may also want to start meeting with a local therapist to talk through your feelings.

Caregiver Fatigue and What Triggers It 

Caregiver fatigue,(Opens in a new window) also known as caregiver burnout, refers to the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion experienced by those who provide care for someone else over an extended period of time. At first, caregivers might just feel physically tired. However, as caregiver burnout progresses, they may also begin to experience depression, feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, sleep deprivation, and other personal health problems. Here are some triggers of burnout to watch out for: 

  • High Stress: Caregiving often involves managing multiple responsibilities, such as medical appointments, medications and personal care. Taken together, these tasks can lead to high levels of stress.
  • Conflicting Demands: Today, many caregivers do double duty. They might provide care to an aging loved one while juggling work and caring for children. These conflicting demands only elevate stress as caregivers try to meet everyone's needs at the same time.
  • Emotional Strain: Witnessing the decline or suffering of a loved one can take a significant emotional toll on caregivers, leading to feelings of sadness, frustration and helplessness.
  • Lack of Self-Care: When stress levels are high and time is at a premium, it's easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. But the temporary relief of skipping self-care can lead to increased caregiver burnout down the line.
  • Ambiguous Roles: In many cases, caregivers don't know exactly what their role is. They're dealing with unclear responsibilities, and constantly playing the guessing game can lead to high levels of fatigue.
  • Lack of Support: Too often, caregivers feel unsupported by their families and communities. This is why one of our top caregiver tips is to join a support group. Talking with like-minded individuals can reduce some of the mental strain.
  • Less Independence and Privacy: When you're always wrapped up in caring for other people, you may begin to feel a lack of autonomy and privacy. So much of your time is now dedicated to someone else, and you may no longer feel like your own person.
  • Perceived Lack of Success: Caregivers often shame themselves for not "mastering" their responsibilities or failing to achieve their goals. This perceived lack of success only further heightens stress and fatigue.

What to Do If You're Suffering From Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout can be triggered by a combination of causes. The good news is that there is hope for alleviating burnout and fatigue. Here are our tips for family caregivers who are exhausted and disillusioned with their role:

1. Recognize Symptoms 

First, it's important to recognize the symptoms of caregiver stress(Opens in a new window) in yourself. Seeing the signs in others is one thing but identifying them in yourself is easier said than done. Take a moment to reflect on your mindset and note any of the following symptoms:

  • Constant feelings of worry
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Changes in sleep pattern—sleeping too much or not enough
  • Feelings of sadness or anger
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Frequent headaches and other pains
  • Failing to meet other family, work and social obligations

2. Set Boundaries

Knowing your own limitations can significantly reduce burnout. Once you understand there's only so much you can do, make sure your family members realize these limitations as well. Keep in mind that you will never be able to control someone else's thoughts and behavior and try to focus on the positive aspects of your role.

3. Acknowledge the Stress and Physical Demands 

Caregiving takes a huge toll on mental health, but it also has lots of physical demands. Assisting with bathing, dressing and toileting takes physical strength, and these tasks are often much more demanding than people expect. Acknowledge the challenge and seek help from an experienced home care agency, such as BrightStar Care, whenever needed. We also recommend eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep to cope with the physical demands.

4. Be Realistic About Finances 

Providing care to a loved one can drastically impact your finances. You may feel responsible for purchasing equipment, supplies and even medical care itself. Be realistic about these financial challenges, and don't hesitate to enlist the help of a financial planning specialist. These professionals can help you find programs that assist with paying for care.  You have several options to explore when it comes to paying for in-home care.

5. Communicate Your Feelings Honestly 

Feeling isolated is a common symptom of caregiver burnout. The best way to avoid such feelings of isolation is to communicate your needs to those around you. When you start getting overwhelmed, talk to someone right away—whether that's a therapist, friend or family member. Try to avoid asking "why" questions about your situation, and instead ask what's in your power to change and how you can do it.

6. Manage Relationship Stress 

Normal family relationships are often disrupted when an older relative needs care. Parent-child roles are reversed, as a parent now needs care from their children. After all, the parent suddenly needs help from their children. Know that you may have disagreements about how things are handled and be sure to approach these from a place of empathy. Focus on positive, uplifting experiences and keep lines of communication open to all concerned family members. Be prepared for a significant emotional impact on both yourself and your loved one. 

7. Follow Our Self-Care Tips

Our self-care tips for caregivers are instrumental in preventing burnout. Never skip a chance to take care of yourself! This can be as simple as a bath or as big a spa day. Make sure you're always investing time in yourself and your well-being.

8. Ask for Help Before You Hit a Breaking Point 

Don't wait until the stress has you at a breaking point. Once you take up the role of caregiver, start looking for help right away. You might reach out to other local family members and see if they'd be willing to help you with certain tasks. Finding a trusted respite care provider can also help take some of the stress off your plate.

Balancing Work, Family, and Caregiving 

Striking a balance between caregiving and your other responsibilities can feel like an impossible task. Thankfully, BrightStar Care is here to help you balance work, family and caring for an elderly or disabled loved one. Check out our ideas for mastering this crucial balancing act:

  • Enlist Other Family Members or Close Family Friends: Do you have other family members living in the area? Do you have close family friends in the area? If so, reach out to them and coordinate ways they can help as well. Perhaps someone can fill your role on days you're unavailable.
  • Talk to Your Employer: Communicating your situation with your employer is essential. They may be able to offer a hybrid work schedule or telecommuting(Opens in a new window) to accommodate your needs. In some cases, asking about the Family and Medical Leave Act can be beneficial. This law allows you to leave your job temporarily and applies to many employers. Be sure to talk to your boss or HR department about whether you're eligible for FMLA leave.
  • Schedule Family Time: Set aside separate time(Opens in a new window) to catch up with your spouse and children away from the loved one you're caring for. While you can certainly have big family get-togethers, scheduling private time with your smaller family unit ensures everyone gets their own time.
  • Set Priorities: It's always a good idea to have a list of priorities. Decide what is the most important and what can wait until you have more time. Remember that you may have to be flexible with your priorities, and what ranks number one this week may not the next.

How BrightStar Care Can Help 

Caring for loved ones can be overwhelming and exhausting. Fortunately, BrightStar Care offers a range of home care services that can ease the burden for family caregivers and ensure that their loved ones receive top-notch care. From companionship and transportation to medical services and skilled nursing care, our team of friendly professionals is dedicated to providing exceptional care in the comfort of home. 

Find a BrightStar Care® Location Near You

Looking for in-home care services or assisted living for your loved one or a reliable medical staffing partner for your organization? Our experienced local care team members are ready to help. Find a location near you, contact us online or call 866.618.7827 to speak with a local care expert and learn more about how BrightStar Care offers A Higher Standard®.

Sources:

The Caregiver Foundation

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