Caregiving is an important responsibility. It involves providing essential services to another person (often a senior), helping empower them to live their best life even as they age.
Understanding the Caregiver Role
Caregivers must understand the tasks and responsibilities they may be taking on, and think carefully about what boundaries they’d like to set in advance. Doing this is a crucial part of performing the job well and ensuring each person receiving care gets the help they need.
Caregiving works best when it’s a community effort. There’s a lot of joy in caregiving (which is something not everyone expects when they go into it). You may think of caregiving as “This is how I’m helping someone else,” but you’re actually helping your future self as well. Caregiving provides an opportunity to think about your goals and be more proactive about aging than you would have been if you weren’t a caregiver.
It takes a village to be a caregiver – so don’t forget to lean on the support of others during this time. (More about that later!)
Some typical roles of a caregiver include tasks such as:
- Assisting with activities of daily living
- Coordinating medical appointments
- Providing emotional support
- Managing medications
- Handling bill payments
- Meal planning and preparation
- Resolving insurance benefits issues
- Providing assistance with technical issues
- Planning or providing transportation for loved ones
As a caregiver, it’s important to remember that the role can sometimes present physical and emotional challenges. Working to meet this head-on and find solutions is an important part of advocating for the individual you care for and yourself. Don’t forget to laugh where you can – it’s a great way to cope with the emotional and physical strain, build rapport, and enjoy this season!
Planning to Help Them Age in Place
Aging in place refers to the ability of an individual to live in their home and community safely and independently. Caregiving can help facilitate this process, enabling seniors to keep their homes rather than move into an assisted living facility.
(Aging in place isn’t the only option, however; some older individuals prefer to downscale or move into an assisted living facility for more companionship. Make the choice that works best for you and your family.)
Proactive caregiving should always provide a supportive environment for daily living activities. Evaluate the home for potential hazards and make necessary modifications and adaptations.
Some helpful and simple changes that can significantly increase safety include:
- Everything they need, on one level. Although most people opt for single-story homes, it is possible to have a multi-story home and still embrace this principle. For example, April has everything she needs on the ground floor of her home except her washer and dryer. But she plans to hire someone to do her laundry once she can’t make it up and down the stairs safely!
- Installing grab bars and ramps. All of us lose our balance sometimes, but as we age, it can become more common. Having something to provide stability within the home is important.
- Using non-slip flooring and removing throw rugs. What is the point of throw rugs, anyway? Over time, they all curl up and cause a major tripping hazard.
- Use cord covers. Unless you want to go entirely off the grid as you age, cords will be a part of your life. They can be a tripping hazard, but cord covers can help!
- Exploring accessible technology resources. Another aspect of aging can be limited vision and hearing. It can be helpful to find ways around these impairments.
- Using medication management apps. Reminders are especially important to those who need to take their medicine at the same time daily.
Building a Support Network
Anyone who has worked in caregiving knows that it is overwhelming. Having a strong support network for both caregivers and the senior individual is of the utmost importance.
Caregivers should seek to involve family and friends in the caregiving journey as much as possible. These people can provide much-needed assistance and emotional support as the situation is navigated. It’s also wise to utilize professional support, such as home healthcare aides or respite care services. Remember, you can’t pour into someone else’s life if you are empty, so respite care can be vital for your well-being!
There are also many community organizations and support groups that connect caregivers with others who understand their experiences.
Remember – a support network doesn’t have to just include those providing care to the person who needs care. A good support network should also provide care to the caregiver. As April says, “Don’t think you need to be a first-line caregiver to be important in the caregiver support system.”
Self-Care for Caregivers
Taking good care of yourself provides a strong foundation to care for others. Burnout is a common issue for caregivers but must be dealt with for the overall well-being of both the caregiver and the person who is receiving care.
So how should caregivers manage their mental health and levels of burnout?
Here are some ideas:
- Practice mindfulness to stay emotionally healthy
- Engage in hobbies to keep your creativity alive
- Move your body and exercise
If you’re still feeling burned out despite your best efforts to manage your stress, it can be a wise idea to seek respite care services. These services can help provide you with a break from your caregiving responsibilities and allow you to rest. You can also consider joining a support group designed especially for caregivers!
But what if you’re a friend or family member of a caregiver and want to know how to support them?
Here are some specific examples you can use:
- A daily or weekly phone call to check in
- Giving your friend a break every now and then
- A monthly hike with a friend (boom – friendship and exercise!)
- Send a thoughtful card or letter their way to encourage them
- Bring them homemade meals or gift cards
Communication and Decision-Making
Trust is one of the most essential components of caregiving and aging in place. Good communication helps facilitate this trust, allowing caregivers and those receiving care to speak honestly about future goals and preferences.
Legal preparations, such as establishing power of attorney or creating a living will, can help ensure the senior’s wishes are respected and get all involved parties on the same age about end-of-life planning. Ensure all decision-making processes are clearly outlined to avoid any conflicts or misunderstandings.
Supported decision-making involves everyone – not just the person who is approaching end of life, but those who are involved with their care and part of the overall support system. The most important thing a person of any age can do is to talk to their support system in advance.
First, talk to your family about your wishes, then write them down. Make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you can only do one of the two things, talk to your family.
Having finances in order is also crucial for aging in place. Understanding the insurance options and government assistance programs is important for caretakers to assist seniors with tasks like budgeting and managing support services. Resources that could prove helpful include FiftyForward and TCAD in Tennesee.
Long-term care insurance, veteran’s benefits, Medicaid, and Medicare are some common options that can help with the financial aspects of caregiving and aging in place. It’s best to seek help from a trusted financial advisor or insurance agent to work through these options and determine the best way to combine them, if possible.
Resources and Recommendations
Consider checking out books from your local library about caregiving or finding helpful websites about caregiving.
Here are some good places to get started:
You can also ask for recommendations from caregiving friends or family about programs that will support you!
Community programs like meal delivery programs and dial-a-ride services provide social engagement opportunities and promote overall well-being for seniors. Be sure to find out what services are available in your area, as they can be wonderful enrichment opportunities.
Contact Graceful Aging Legal Services to Learn More!
Proactive caregiving makes it possible for seniors to successfully age in place. As a proactive caregiver, you should make it a top priority to create a safe and comfortable living environment for the person you’re caring for.
Understanding your role and what resources are available is critical in ensuring seniors maintain independence and dignity as they age, and having the right support can help you ensure you’re providing the best care possible so both you and the person you’re caring for have a positive quality of life.
At Graceful Aging Legal Services, we aim to help seniors age well. Part of this includes planning for their future and the future of their families. Want to learn more about aging in place? Contact us today, and we’ll help you prepare and organize so that major decisions aren’t looming over your head!