Caring for an older parent, relative or friend is often a labor of love, but can be daunting as well. As a caregiver, you may face a host of new roles and responsibilities, many of which can be unfamiliar and intimidating.  At times, you may feel overwhelmed and alone. The stress of caring for a loved one oftentimes causes family caregivers to suffer from depression and other chronic conditions.  However, despite its challenges, caregiving can also be rewarding. There are many things you can do to make the process easier for both you and your loved one to help you become a better caregiver.

Here are some tips to make caregiving easier:

  • Purchase a notebook and write down questions you want to ask the doctors and healthcare team.  Leave space to record the answers.   Use the book to track medication changes, appointments and special instructions.
  • Learn as much as you can about your family member’s illness and about how to be a caregiver for him/her. The more you know, the less anxiety you will feel about your new role and the more effective you will be.
  • Make sure legal documents are in order and easily accessible
  • Enlist the help of others – not only for caregiving, but for your own personal tasks like cleaning and shopping.
  • Seek out others in the same situation. It helps to know that you are not alone. It is comforting to give and receive support from others who understand what you are going through.  There are various support groups sponsored by disease-specific foundations, healthcare facilities and various churches, temples and community organizations.
  • Encourage your loved one’s independence, where possible. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your loved one. Be open to technologies and strategies that allow your family member to be as independent as possible. It can be as simple as setting an alarm to remind them to take their medication instead of you constantly reminding them.  Or as high-tech as software that can enable higher functioning individuals to dictate notes to self, or search the internet.
  • Along with independent living comes control.  An individual who is immersed in the healthcare system often loses control over his or her life, with all free time being dictated by doctor appointments, diets, medication and having to ask for assistance.  Try to give some of that control back to your loved one.  Offer choices, but ones that are obtainable.   As an example, ask your loved one what he or she would like for lunch, giving only two options that are possible.  By narrowing the selections and offering choice, both of you can win.
  • Take a short break from work. If juggling caregiving and your work schedule becomes overwhelming, the Family Medical Leave Act and other leave programs can give you the reprieve needed to you turn your focus exclusively to the care of your love one for a short period of time.
  • Consider hiring a home health aide who can lend a helping hand with personal care needs, safety monitoring, and more. A bit of respite for a few hours a day per week can go a long way to alleviating some of the stress.
  • Know your limits and take care of yourself, too. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set clear limits, and communicate those limits to doctors, family members, and other people involved.  It is ok to ask for help from other family members or friends who have offered assistance.  Take time for yourself so that you can have a reprieve both physically as well as mentally.  Make a concerted effort to stay social and do some things that you enjoy.  Eat right, sleep well and try to exercise.

    Caregiving can be difficult.  Maintaining balance in your own life by asking for help and taking care of your own needs can assure that it does not become burdensome, enabling you to be the best caregiver possible.

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