More than 43 million Americans care for a loved one, with most providing care for at least 20 hours a week. Becoming a caregiver often means a fundamental shift in your relationship. It may require significant schedule changes, less time with your kids, and a willingness to become an expert in aging and various ailments. Most caregivers steadily transition into this role over a period of months or years. This transition can help you slowly adapt to your role while assessing what works and what doesn’t.
Here are some strategies that can help you ease into this role with grace and skill, without compromising your own quality of life.
Learn About Your Loved One’s Condition
While some people become caregivers immediately after an accident or major diagnosis, most transition into the role over time. If your loved one is diagnosed with a chronic or degenerative medical condition, begin learning as much as you can about the condition on day one. This helps you predict the course of your loved one’s illness, plan for the future, and assess whether aging in place is a realistic option for your loved one.
Be Prepared for Resistance to Care
A senior’s need for care does not remove their desire to chart their own course and lead an independent life. So don’t be surprised if your loved one is resistant to care—and hostile to anyone who offers it. Find ways to help your loved one remain independent. For example, if they can no longer drive, try setting up an Uber account so they can still enjoy hobbies and outings. The goal should be to help your loved one collaborate with you to evaluate care options, not make them feel like you're taking over their life.
Don’t Make Assumptions About Aging or Ailing Seniors
Seniors are unique people, just like everyone else. A person’s needs, interests, and passions don’t necessarily change just because they grow older. So don’t expect a once-active senior to happily retire to a rocking chair, or anticipate that a dedicated activist will be willing to give up their picket signs. Find ways to help your loved one continue living as they want to. Don’t impose ageist stereotypes on them or expect that they will stop wanting to lead a life of purpose just because they are older.
Know That Cognitive Issues Can Affect Decision-Making
Dementia and serious cognitive issues are not a normal part of aging. You shouldn’t assume that just because a loved one is growing older, they are also becoming less competent. However, dementia is common, affecting about one in 10 seniors over the age of 65. If your loved one is aggressive, depressed, abusing substances, making bad decisions, or uninterested in talking about their long-term care, consider that dementia might be a factor.
Lean on Technological Solutions
Technology has revolutionized the field of senior care, giving seniors more options, greater access to the outside world, and a chance to remain independent longer. Use technology to your advantage. Automatic pill dispensers can remove the obligation to manage your loved one’s pills, give your loved one more privacy and freedom, and greatly reduce the risk of medication mishaps. A tablet can help your loved one communicate with loved ones, read blogs, share their views with the world, and watch their favorite movies. Your doctor may even be able to recommend technological solutions if your loved one has special needs, so don’t shy away from seeking expert insight.
Get Help and Buy-In From Your Family
Families often disagree about senior caregiving decisions. Sometimes all of the work falls to a single caregiver who faces an endless stream of criticism from people who aren’t themselves willing to help. Or perhaps two or more family members are willing to provide care, but strongly disagree about the appropriate level of care. Some strategies that can help your family bridge disputes and support one another include:
Attending doctor’s appointments together. When everyone has the same information, disagreements are less likely.
Asking for help from people who criticize the care you provide. Sometimes criticism is just a way for people to feel involved. If you ask them to help with the specific work they criticize, they may back off.
Working with a family counselor or social worker. Many families find that discussing caregiving issues in a safe space with an unbiased mediator can help them navigate their disagreements.
Caregiving work is tough. It’s also deeply rewarding. You’ll spend the rest of your life knowing that when your loved one needed care, you stepped up to the plate to ensure their last chapter could be a good one. It’s easy to lose sight of how much this matters when grappling with the daily stresses of caregiving. Your contribution counts. Your caregiving matters.