Caregiver 101: Tips to Help You Help Them

Katherine Cork's picture
By Katherine Cork on May 23, 2017

It is important to share special moments with our loved ones whenever we can; this often means caring for them when they are seriously ill.
 
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, approximately 43.5 million caregivers have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months. The majority of those are providing care to an adult age 50 or older.
 
“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or unequipped as a caregiver,” said Sarah Stevens a clinical social worker with Carilion Clinic Hospice. “You’ll most likely need help and support on your journey.”

Maybe you need support in your ability to make health decisions and honor the wishes of your loved one, or maybe you’re not yet comfortable using medical equipment or taking care of your loved one’s basic needs like bathing. The needs and reasons for support can be endless and varied, but there is help to be found.

Sarah shared her top 5 tips for caregivers who might be struggling and looking for education and support:

1. Attend classes.
Check to see if anyone in your area holds training classes for caregivers. At Carilion Clinic, a free, 1-hour class is offered, with each attendee receiving hands-on practice with medical equipment and access to instructors that share tips they’ve learned over the years to make caregiving easier.

2. Know your insurance.
Medicare, Medicaid and private-pay insurances often cover services that caregivers are unaware of. Most insurances pay for home care, including hospice. Those who qualify can also receive community caregivers paid for by Medicaid.

3. Complete advance care planning.
What someone would medically want in case they cannot make the decision for themselves is an important conversation to have. Talk with loved ones about medical do’s and don’ts, and put it in writing through a medical power of attorney, power of attorney, Physician's Order for Life Sustaining Treatment (POLST) or a do not resuscitate (DNR) order.

4. Know and use your community resources.
Your community is a support. Look for programs that can help, like the Agency on Aging, which can provide home delivered meals, volunteers and education.

5. Breathe and take time for yourself.
You can only give good care if you also care for yourself! Take time to practice self-care. A short walk, a private moment alone or a quick lunch with a friend can really help. Taking time for yourself will help you avoid caregiver fatigue and burnout. If you feel like you are already burned out or are showing signs of fatigue; reach out to family, friends. Ask for help.
 
It is important for both you and your loved one to get the care and support you need. For more information about caregiving, visit the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. For additional support in advance care planning, visit the National Institute on Aging.