At some point in your life you might be faced with the decision to become a family caregiver. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that over 65 million people, or about 29 percent of the U.S. adult population, are providing care to a loved one who is ill, disabled, or aged. Which means you will have plenty of company. Understanding the roles a family caregiver plays, and the challenges involved, can help you decide if it is right for you and your lifestyle.
What is a family caregiver?
A family caregiver provides support to another family member in need. The loved one can be sick, disabled, aging or they simply cannot perform daily tasks for themselves. Family caregivers have been known to help with the following:
- Paying bills
- Administering medications
Although the previous list is not exhaustive, nor will every caregiver do everything on this list, family members can sometimes experience ups and downs when these responsibilities are added to their own daily routines. Before agreeing to be a family caregiver, it is important to think through all sides of this decision.
1) Your Physical State
It’s important to make sure that you will be physically able to take care of your ailing loved one. Injuries can happen among family caregivers and those who are more physically fit will be less likely to encounter them. Injuries include things like pulled muscles and sprains or pain from overusing parts of your body for things like constant standing, squatting or bending. These types of injuries occur for several reasons. For example, repeatedly lifting and transferring relatives can put stress on the body. Other duties like cleaning or assisting with a patient’s bath, can also be physically taxing. It’s important to talk with your doctor about whether you’re physically able to take care of a loved one. Other family members, friends and healthcare professionals can also step in and help out when needed. There are also several home mobility products and devices that can help with the physical aspects of caring for a relative.
2) Your Mental Health
Family caregivers can experience more stress than usual when taking care of their loved one. Although caring for them will feel rewarding, it can seem overwhelming at times with the roles and responsibilities. It’s important to consider your mental health and your personality before agreeing to become a family caregiver. If you experience any of the following, you should talk with a health care professional:
- Depression: Symptoms of this condition include feeling tired all the time, a loss of interest in people or activities you used to enjoy, feeling like nothing you do is good enough, or thoughts of suicide. There are medications and other treatments for depression.
- Anxiety: You might feel anxious about handling the extra responsibilities, worry what will happen to your loved one if something happens to you, and have concerns about the future. It’s important to talk with someone about these anxieties.
- Anger: You might feel anger and resentment toward your loved one, and that is a normal reaction. Joining a caregiver support group can help you deal with those feelings and understand that you’re not alone.
- Guilt: Feeling like you need to have more patience or feeling bad for wishing you didn’t have this problem. Everyone experiences these feelings. Talk to family and friends about the next steps.
- Grief: Family caregivers often feel grief regarding their situation. It can be emotionally hard to see a loved one regress and become less like the person they used to know and love. Therapy, support groups and extra help can alleviate these feelings.
Your mental health is important. The decision to become a caregiver should not be taken lightly. Regular therapy sessions and caregiver support groups can help with this aspect of becoming a family caregiver.
3) Your Time
Time is a finite resource, and you may feel like you don’t have enough of it when you decide to become a family caregiver. Your lifestyle will most likely change, giving you less time for activities than you had before. Determining how much time you are willing and able to sacrifice is an important step when deciding to serve as a family caregiver. Other family members, volunteers and healthcare professionals can help out when you have other things you need to do. You can schedule monthly or weekly help to come in and take care of your loved one and give you some much-needed respite.
4) Your Location
How close are you in proximity to your loved one? This is an important consideration because it has the potential to increase stress levels. Living at a further distance makes for longer drives and the inability to be there right away in case of an emergency. On the other hand, living too close to the family member, or even with them, can make it difficult to keep your life separate from theirs. Your loved one’s needs and your priorities should both be considered.
5) Your Money
Taking care of a family member can be expensive. You may have to adjust your work schedule to help your loved one. Family caregiving is also unpaid. It’s important to make sure you can stay within your means while taking care of your loved one. Talk to a financial planner and explore what options or benefits are available to you and your family. Have a discussion with family members about the cost of taking care of your loved one. Relatives may be able to divide up costs between them and reduce the burden.
6) Your Relationships
The stress of caring for someone else can cause unexpected conflicts among friends, family members, co-workers, and others. Other family members and friends might feel as though you aren’t making time for them. Disagreements with other family members over the loved one’s care may arise. Co-workers might feel as though you aren’t as invested in your job or as dependable. It’s important to be honest and upfront with the people in your life about what you are going through and their concerns in regards to your caregiving. Most people will be very understanding and even willing to help.
7) Your Happiness
Caring for a loved one is rewarding, but it’s important to figure out how much responsibility you can take on and still live your own life. Juggling the tasks of daily life is often challenging, and adding the care of a loved one has the potential to make your everyday routine very chaotic. Have a discussion with the people in your life who are important to you as you make your decision. Friends, family and healthcare professionals should all be on the same page as you begin your new role as a family caregiver.
Being a family caregiver can be rewarding and many families choose this path for their loved ones. Consider everything involved with this decision and have a real, honest talk with those around you, your family, your doctor, and your loved one’s doctor.