How to Prepare for Becoming an Active Caregiver

29
Caring for the Caregiver 

By Madhavi Vemireddy

At CareTribe, our goal is to provide you, as a caregiver, with the tools and expertise you need to help your loved one. Typically, caregivers find themselves in this role with very little expert support. With preparation, you can discover the best options for the current needs of your loved one and start planning for future needs.  

How to start the conversation about caregiving 

The first step in becoming a caregiver is awareness. Your loved one may not have an immediate need yet, but these are the first steps to prepare for the caregiving journey. During this time, you’re having conversations about the future and looking ahead to determine what kind of resources may be needed. All of us should be in this phase to some extent. 

Most people in this early phase of caregiving don’t identify themselves as caregivers because they’re not providing day-to-day care. Maybe you’re just taking your loved one to the doctor, visiting with them, or helping out with a few things around the house. If you’re doing any of these activities, it’s essential to recognize you are actually in the early stages of caregiving.

You may be uncomfortable talking with your loved one about aging, but early preparation is essential. The earlier you start preparing, the better your experience as a caregiver will be. 

Start the conversation with words such as:

  • I was thinking about what happened to so-and-so. It made me think about what I would do if that happened to you. 
  • I want to help you plan for the future. 
  • I know you’re okay now, but I want us to be prepared if something were to happen. 
  • I want to understand the things that are important to you.

How to start preparing to become a caregiver

Start looking for the signs that it’s time to get help or find additional support. The holidays are an excellent time to take an informal assessment of your loved one’s needs. When you visit your loved one, make sure to notice the current state of their health and independence. Take note if they can accomplish daily activities, such as: 

  • Shopping for groceries
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Going to doctor’s appointments 
  • Preparing meals

Also, look for independence in daily care activities, such as: 

  • Dressing
  • Bathing
  • Eating
  • Getting around their home 

If you see your loved one is struggling with any of these activities, it may be the time to talk about whether they are open to having someone come in the home and help out. 

How to prepare for emergencies as a caregiver

Start pulling together important information in case of an emergency. Who are the physicians your loved one is seeing? What health conditions does your loved one currently have? What medications is your loved one taking? If your loved one is unconscious or unable to think clearly, scrambling for this information makes an emergency even more stressful. 

You’ll want to have documents such as medical records and insurance information handy. The National Caregiver Library’s Caregiver Document Organizer is a helpful resource.  

Essential information to collect before an emergency:

  • Your loved one’s contacts, including doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, financial advisers, as well as friends and family to be contacted in case of emergency
  • Your loved one’s medications, including doses and instructions   
  • Your loved one’s medical conditions, symptoms, as well as any allergies
  • Your loved one’s preferences when it comes to a living will and advance care directives 
  • Medical power of attorney to determine who can act on your loved one’s behalf 

How to prepare financially for becoming a caregiver

Being financially prepared for becoming a caregiver involves understanding the wishes of your loved one in regard to their living situation and then making a plan. Does your loved one want to stay in their own home or look at other senior housing facilities? Once you have an idea of their wishes, then you can start planning financially. 

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Medicare is going to pay for this. Medicare will pay for a short nursing facility stay after a hospital visit or an acute health need. It will not pay for your loved one’s ongoing care.

Most people don’t realize the costs involved with paying for help at home or providing care at an assisted living facility. AARP’s long-term care calculator is a helpful resource in budgeting for a variety of care options. Once you run several of those projections, you can have a conversation with your loved one about the available finances and assets to make these options possible. 

Financial and legal information to prepare in advance:

  • Your loved one’s monthly bills to be paid, mortgages, and other monthly expenses
  • Your loved one’s insurance policies and contact information 
  • Your loved one’s passwords and website ID information
  • Financial power of attorney to determine who can act on your loved one’s behalf 
  • Your loved one’s sources of income, assets, 401(K) accounts, and pensions 
  • Your loved one’s social security and Medicare/Medicaid information 
  • Your loved one’s banking and account numbers 
  • Your loved one’s credit and debit card numbers
  • Location and copies of your loved one’s estate documents, including their will 
  • The location of the deed of trust for your loved one’s home as well as their car title and registration  

How to take care of yourself as well as your loved one

Being a caregiver is incredibly rewarding, but there is a risk in the role. If you are helping a loved one on a long-term basis or on top of a full- or a part-time job, you may find you are neglecting your own health needs. More than ever, it’s vital that you take time to walk, get enough sleep, and keep up with your own medical appointments. 

As a long-term caregiver, you are possibly dealing with some level of chronic stress. Over time, chronic stress leads to a decline in your own physical and mental health. Left unchecked, ongoing stress will inevitably result in burnout. 

Another thing we notice when working with family caregivers is the drain on their personal time. Giving up too much can lead to resentment. Remember to take breaks. It’s a form of stress management. 

At CareTribe, we don’t examine the wellbeing of the care recipient alone. The reality is that the family caregiver and care recipient are a functional unit–whatever impacts one also impacts the other. Our emphasis is on the family’s wellbeing.

Resources to prepare in advance for self-care and the care of your loved one:

  • Service providers such as home health aides, cleaners, and handypersons who can help in your loved one’s home
  • Family members willing to step in and assist with daily care when you need a break
  • A caregiver support group
  • A therapist or social worker 

If you’re not an active caregiver yet, the most important thing you can do is prepare. Caregiving is an eventuality. At some point, either we will need to care for someone, or someone will need to care for us. At CareTribe, our mission is to support you and your loved one by helping you find the resources you need. For more information visit our website.

As a physician and a cofounder of CareTribe, Madhavi Vemireddy offers advice on early preparation to make caregiving go as smoothly as possible.