Do you find yourself taking on increasing responsibility for the care of a loved one? If so, you might be one of 65 million family caregivers in the United States today. A family caregiver is someone who cares for a relative, neighbor or friend who has suffered an injury, trauma or other disability. Unlike a typical healthcare practitioner, a family caregiver is unpaid and usually provides assistance in the person’s home. This is a tough and often thankless job, and it’s important to recognize caregivers for their important work. And if you’re a family caregiver, take this opportunity to learn a few tips to keep yourself balanced.
Talk to Doctors
Although care recipients spend much of their time resting at home, they will need to visit doctors for checkups, prescriptions and emergencies. As a family caregiver, you will likely take them to appointments, speak with physicians and follow up when needed. Managing all this can be overwhelming, but staying organized can help reduce stress. Before an appointment, write down all your questions and note down the symptoms you wish to discuss. Afterwards, review the prescriptions and physician’s instructions so that you’re completely clear on what you need to do. Most importantly, maintain good working relationships with their healthcare team so that everyone stays on the same page.
Being a family caregiver is exhausting. Do yourself a favor and take regular respite breaks, whether it’s five minutes or five days. A respite break is an opportunity to recharge, both mentally and physically, and it’s important for care recipients as well; the more you rest, the better prepared you are to provide care. You can ask a friend or family member to take over for the afternoon, or you can find a trained volunteer to help with more complicated tasks. There are plenty of volunteer organizations at your disposal, such as the Interfaith Caregivers Alliance (ICA). And don’t forget to recharge your mind; read a book, watch a play or play some music to remind yourself that you are more than just your job.
Keep Track of Files
It’s not fun, but keeping track of all your care recipient’s medical information is essential to providing effective care. And, in the long run, it reduces the stress of constantly having to search for files. Some important documents to keep track of include the patient’s medical history, doctor’s contact information, insurance documents, prescription plans and legal documents (including a Living Will). Store these files in an easily accessible location and come up with an organization scheme that makes sense to you. Most importantly, keep all medical information up to date.
Remember: You’re Not Alone
Community is important. Don’t forget to seek help from other family caregivers who are going through some of the same struggles as you are. Find a local caregiver organization to share stories with, find online forums and reach out to local support groups. The Caregiver Action Network (CAN) is a great place to start, and many of their forums are very active. Caregiving is a journey, but it’s not a journey you have to take alone.