Many people say, “I’m not a caregiver, I’m a daughter, son, partner, or wife.” They may be afraid that if they acknowledge their caregiving role, their basic relationship to their family member will mean less to both of them. This fear is understandable, but not realistic. You will always be a daughter, son, husband, or wife. Some people talk about caregiving as “becoming a parent to your parent.” But that’s not really true either. Whatever you do for your aging mother, she will always be your mother. Thinking of her as your child is not helpful for either of you. Another objection to being called a caregiver is that you are not doing anything special. You are just taking care of someone you love, as you promised or feel obligated to do. But the reality is that “taking care” in today’s complicated health care world goes far beyond what any family member had to do in the past.
A caregiver is defined as one who:
- Takes care of someone who has a chronic illness or disease.
- Manages medications or talks to doctors and nurses on one’s behalf.
- Helps dress or bathe who is frail or disabled
- Takes care of household chores, meals or bills for someone who cannot do these by themselves.
Being a caregiver gives you some rights and authority when dealing with health care and social service agency staff.
- As a family caregiver, you have the right to get information about your family member’s condition.
- You have the right to be involved in decision making about your family member’s care.
- You are an essential partner in the health care team and have the right to be trained to provide care.
- As a caregiver you can find support services that you might otherwise miss.
- In some states, being a caregiver can protect you from job discrimination. Still, it’s an emotional as well as practical transition. There are ways to make the transition less stressful and, equally important, help you cope when caregiving ends.
When Does Caregiving Start? The transition to becoming a caregiver is often not the event itself, which may be an emergency, but what happens after the emergency. The moment of realization may come when a hospital discharge planner assumes that you will provide your father’s extensive needs for care at home. Or it may be when a nurse tells you that your husband will be unable to feed himself after a stroke. Or perhaps the close family members you counted on for help are unable or unwilling to provide day-to-day care. It is hard to accept that your family member is going to need help from now on. It is also hard to accept that you will need to provide that care or find other people to do it. But once you have accepted the reality, you can begin to deal with it. Here are a few things to remember:
- Think before you act. Your first thought may be to quit your job, move your family member into your home, or sell your own home to pay for care. Take time to think about all the big decisions that have to be made. www.nextstepincare.org ©2012 United Hospital Fund
- Becoming a Caregiver The moment you realize that you are a family caregiver may come after years of a parent’s gradual decline, or suddenly after a spouse’s stroke. There is nearly always some event that forces a change. It may be an event that involves the police – a fire, driving accident, wandering – or the health care system – a serious fall, a diagnosis of a chronic disease, a hospitalization. What you do now will affect your future and the rest of your family too.
- Set limits on what you can do. No one can do it all. You will need to get help from many people—professionals, people you hire, other family members, friends, and community services. Let go of guilt. Sometimes other people make you feel guilty – a nurse or doctor who criticizes you because your father does not do his exercises, a sister-in-law who spots the one room you haven’t cleaned recently, your mother who wants you and only you by her side all day. Most guilt, however, comes from your own feelings of not being a good enough caregiver, parent, spouse, or employee. If you are doing your best to keep up with the many demands of caregiving, there is no reason to feel guilty. If you realize that even your best is not good enough to meet all the needs, it’s time to change the situation and ask for help.
- First Steps for Family Caregivers With these lurking concerns, it’s vital to start having those important conversations around the potential need of caregiving for yourself or for an elder family member or spouse. For example some questions to ask include:
- If you ever become incapacitated or disabled, who will make financial decisions on your behalf?
- How will they know your wishes?
- Where will they find the necessary documents?
- How recently have you updated your estate documents like Power of Attorney, Living Will, Living Trust, Health Care Surrogate and your will?
- Do you have a trusted advisor like a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner who has a proven history of helping you with these financial issues?
For a free Caregiving Readiness Guide, please call our office or click on the contact tab found in the top right of this page.
Any opinions are those of Thomas Fleishel and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.