Most people are not just looking for how to be a caregiver, but how to be a good caregiver.
So, what qualities make you a good caregiver? Learn here about the top caregiver tips for providing the most effective care (and caring for yourself in the process).
Keep reading for the best advice on becoming a good caregiver.
What Qualities Make You A Good Caregiver?
It is no secret that being a caregiver can take a toll on your health. Studies show that there is a considerably high prevalence of depression in cancer patient caregivers, and mounting research on other diseases is starting to mirror these rates.
However, your quality of life does not have to suffer even though you may be taking care of someone with a diminishing quality of life. Whether you are providing care to a family member or are employed as a caregiver, there are a couple of key tips to keep you empowered throughout the process.
The first step is to view caregiving not as a burden but as an opportunity. As a caregiver, you’ll likely be helping someone accomplish everyday tasks while providing emotional support. Beyond empowering the individual you are caring for, this can help you to become a more empowered person as well.
How To Be An Effective Caregiver
There are generally two types of caregivers:
- Formal Caregiver– generally an employee or professional assigned to give part- or full-time care to an individual (i.e. in an elderly care facility)
- Informal Caregiver– usually a family member or friend who provides home care to an elderly, ill, or disabled family member
Being an effective caregiver, just like many other jobs, can come more naturally as you gain relevant skills. Whether a formal or informal caregiver, equipping yourself with the right tools can help both you and the person you are caring for cope in healthier ways with challenging circumstances.
Becoming truly educated, and not just relying on life experience, in the following areas can help you to become a better caregiver:
- Meal planning and/or preparation (bistroMD meal delivery can help caregivers, and Silver Cuisine can support seniors)
- Time management
- Health insurance
- Managing medication
- Money management
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good start! In the process, you may learn a thing or two that you can use to help yourself in your own life. Some would even call that self-care.
What Do Caregivers Need Most?
Wondering what caregivers need the most? These 10 tips can help you navigate life as a new caregiver and equip you with the information you need to make decisions during difficult times.
1. Understand The Risks Involved
Many people feel obligated to care for family and friends who fall ill. While this is a valid feeling, it’s also okay to acknowledge that you may not be the best person for the job! Finding a professional caregiver may allow a loved one to experience better care, and in no way means you have failed.
Informal caregivers (⅔ of which are women), often experience their own decline in health and begin neglecting basic needs like filling their own prescriptions or getting screened for breast cancer. Additionally, caregivers tend to experience the following:
- Lower levels of physical activity
- Poor nutrition
- Poor sleep
- Increased risk for depression or anxiety
- Increased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and excess weight
- Increased likelihood of memory and attention problems
- Increased risk for injury due to patient care (i.e. lifting patients)
…and the list goes on and on. If you feel like the risks of caregiving outweigh the benefits, it is completely normal and even healthy to seek out other options for getting a loved one the care that they need.
2. Get Outside Each Day
You don’t need a study to tell you (although there are plenty to help prove it) that fresh air can do the body and mind an immense amount of good. Studies on both the aging and caregiving populations show that physical activity decreases. A short walk, even just a block, maybe all you need to get movement and some vitamin D.
Additionally, being present outside can be a grounding technique for those experiencing anxiety. Feeling the grass on your feet or hearing the wind and birds in the distance can help connect you more to the moment.
Whether a caregiver or a patient, try to get outside for at least 15 minutes each day. If it is unsafe to do so, try enjoying videos or sounds of nature, or sit next to a window with a good view of the outdoors.
3. Plan For Financial Freedom
Financial strain is generally a challenge unique to informal caregivers. However, poor compensation for formal caregivers can also lead to an atmosphere of stress and a scarcity mindset surrounding money. Regardless of the situation, as a caregiver, it is important to consider the financial impact of caregiving and plan accordingly.
For example, a recent study showed that families caring for a loved one with dementia paid an average of $61,522 during the last 5 years of the patient’s life. While this rate is generally higher than the costs from other causes, it is never too early to start saving for your future and becoming more financially literate. This investment could quite literally improve your family’s quality of life during a difficult time.
4. Reach Out To Your Resources
Thanks to innovative technology, arising awareness, and improved funding, support systems have grown. One such program, called REACH (Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health), was founded as a result of a study that showed how support and education for caregivers can increase quality of life.
Look for care programs like REACH or support groups that provide the following:
- Trained staff that connect regularly with caregivers
- Home or virtual visits
- Structured support sessions
- Free community-based programs
- Local agency support
At the onset, this may seem like just another obligation or event to fit into your busy schedule. However, research shows that caregivers need this exact kind of support. Instead of going it alone, reach out (no pun intended) and use the caregiver resources available to you.
4. Make Time For Yourself
In case you haven’t gotten the message yet, research supports taking time for yourself! Don’t neglect your own needs at the expense of others.
In theory, you may support this, but at the same time are thinking, “How?” Start small by taking a break each day. Many experts recommend scheduling breaks when possible so there’s less of a chance you’ll talk yourself out of it.
Another way to make time for yourself? Schedule a regular appointment with a therapist. Many providers can schedule virtual visits if you are unable to leave the house. Additionally, make sure to take time for your own hobbies and interests to avoid feeling like you are “losing yourself” in the service of another.
Finally, remember that mindset means a lot, and the messages you tell yourself are important. It is possible to take care of yourself and take care of an individual who can’t do it on their own anymore. As mentioned above, qualified professionals like therapists can help you cope with this challenging season of life without letting it take quality of life away from you.
5. Commit To Communication
No matter the caregiving scenario, communication is extremely important. If this is not a skill you naturally possess, it may be time to brush up.
As a formal caregiver, be sure to understand the methods of medication management. Especially when caregivers switch between shifts, it is important that an open dialogue of care has been kept. This can prevent the increase of risks such as improper dosing from happening.
As an informal caregiver, it is key to establish communication. Experts recommend having some sort of centralized schedule when more than one caregiver is involved in the care process.
Also, if you are employed while taking care of a loved one, it can be helpful to communicate to your boss about your obligations outside the home. Some employers may provide special support or resources to you during this time that you might miss if you don’t mention what’s happening at home.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, listen to the signals your body is sending you! Communicate effectively to others when you need a break (don’t wait until burnout). Everyone needs a day off, and sometimes more than one day, so it is completely valid to ask for some time to take care of yourself.
6. Get In Touch With Your Feelings
First, feelings are normal, and a lot can come up during caregiving situations. Beyond dealing with an individual who is experiencing grief, loss, and overwhelming emotions themselves, you may begin to have overwhelming feelings, too.
The impact of caregiving on the caregiver is immense. About 20% of caregivers report that caregiving is difficult physically and financially, 44% report that caregiving is emotionally taxing. Caring for a person with high care needs correlates with higher rates of exhaustion and overwhelm.
In other words, caregiving is a challenging situation you aren’t expected to cope with on your own. As a caregiver, it can be helpful to have your own personal “caregiver.” Ask this person to check in with you regularly and make sure you feel supported.
7. Let Go Of Long-Distance Guilt
Let’s talk about long-distance caregiving for a minute. It is common for long-distance caregivers to feel guilty about “only sending money” or even just loving and caring from a distance. Some may even consider moving to another state to cope with the current circumstance.
Remember that healthy caregiving can take place from a distance, and you can still be a great caregiver if you aren’t able to be there in person to take care of someone you love. Sending funds, making regular phone calls, staying aware of treatment plans, and other meaningful actions can help you feel connected.
Additionally, connecting with other long-distance caregivers can give you a safe space to discuss the issues that are bothering you.
8. Sustain a Good Sleep Schedule
Don’t leave sleep out of the equation. Getting restful, rejuvenating sleep can help you reduce the risk of accidents while on the job.
Sleep is an integral part of functioning that fuels many of your body’s processes. If you have been experiencing poor sleep since beginning caregiving, it might be time to meet with a specialist and figure out what is ailing you. Helping your patient keep a good sleep schedule is incredibly important to their health as well.
9. Understand the Different Stages
There are five common stages to caregiving, namely awareness, unfolding responsibility, increasing care demands, and end of life. Identifying what stage you are in can help you find more specific care to meet your needs. Some support groups have subgroups or organizations that can even help you to find others going through the same stage you are.
Bereavement is sometimes included as a sixth stage. It is important to realize what a big void loss can leave in your life. Check in with friends in this stage, and also be gentle with yourself when experiencing life after caregiving.
Closing the Gap In Caregiving
Thanks to the internet, you now have resources at your fingertips. Connect with other caregivers experiencing the same stage of life as you to get ideas beyond the top 10 tips mentioned in this article. Additionally, invest in your own self-care to improve the quality of the caregiving you can offer.
Coping with Caregiving (Take Care of Yourself While Caring for Others). National Institutes of Health. Published December 2015. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/12/coping-caregiving.
Geng HM, Chuang DM, Yang F, Yang Y, Liu WM, et al. Prevalence and determinants of depression in caregivers of cancer patients: A systematic review and meta- analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2018;97(39):e11863.
Including Families and Caregivers as Part of the Health Care Team. National Institute on Aging (NIA). Published May 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/including-families-and-caregivers-part-health-care-team.