Becoming a Caregiver: Tips and Considerations

One day, you wake up and discover that you are no longer the person you had been the day before. Yesterday, you were a mother, father, spouse, an advertising executive, program developer, builder, social worker. Today, you are a caregiver—because your mother had a stroke, or your father fell and has a brain injury, or your spouse had a heart attack, or your child has just been diagnosed with leukemia. Although we are all likely to face this time at some point in our lives, it is not something for which we’re ever prepared. It often comes upon us unexpectedly, and the learning curve can be steep.

If you find yourself suddenly thrust in to this role or simply want to start thinking about what will be needed when the time comes, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Get educated: Learn as much as you can about your care receiver’s condition from reliable sources. It helps to understand the disease or illness and how it may impact the person in need of care. This includes learning about the side effects of medications used to treat the person. Your care receiver is likely to be uncomfortable and or confused. He or she may experience pain. The medications they receive may have physical and/or emotional side effects, such as depression or agitation. Knowledge will help you handle potentially difficult situations.
  • Research services and supports: Initially, the need for care may arise from a crisis. However, once the crisis is over and the care receiver comes home, the caregiving demands change. Find out what services and supports are available for the person you are caring for in the home. Questions to consider:
  • Is the care receiver eligible for home health services such as a visiting nurse, physical, occupational or speech therapy?
  • Do you have a doctor’s order for home health services? Often, the doctor will put in the order upon discharge from a hospital, but it’s important to be proactive and advocate on behalf of your loved one.
  • Should you ask for a doctor’s order for other services such as palliative and hospice care? These types of services are not always suggested or ordered unless you ask for them.
  • Will you need an aide to help with care at home?
  • What about medical equipment such as a hospital bed or wheelchair?

What you will need to arrange will depend on the level and duration of care that will be required. This might include some home modification such as installing grab bars, hand rails on stair cases, a wheelchair ramp or chair lift. If you are returning to work, have other family obligations or need respite you may want set up home meal delivery and explore what technology has to offer. These days, it ranges from simple emergency response systems to medication dispensers, health and house/person monitoring. There are also adult day care services in many areas.

  • Ask for help: Last, but not least, don’t be hesitant to call upon other family members and friends for temporary or ongoing assistance. There is no virtue in taking on the whole burden of care if help is available. You will be better off accepting help, and for that reason so will the person receiving the care.

Remember, if not today than someday, each of us will most likely become a caregiver or a care receiver and, very possibly, we will experience both of those circumstances at one time or another in our lives.

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