Being a caretaker is an immensely rewarding — if sometimes challenging — role. Unpaid caretakers in the U.S. number in at least the millions, if not more. The number is questionable because it depends a lot on the definition of “caretaking.”
The many different types of required care create very diverse positions. Each of these individuals requires different levels of need and a variety of specific assistance, support, and independence. Whether you are a full time or part-time caretaker, a complete caretaker guide would be an immensely useful document. Unfortunately, with so many different people requiring and providing caregiving, a complete and unabridged guide is virtually impossible. These five caretaker guiding tips, however, can help guide caretakers by keeping you and the person you care for safer, happier, and healthier.
Caretaker Guide Tip One: Find or Make a Support Group
Caretakers are all over the world! No matter what support the individual you care for requires, a whole community of people is in the same position. Support groups used to be limited to the people in your community, but the accessibility of social media, video calls, and online groups make finding a support group relatively easy. Furthermore, the requirements of caregiving can make leaving the house a strain. Online groups not only allow easier access, but they also make finding a time that suits your schedule even easier.
If you cannot attend regular in-person group meetings, schedule the minimum you can handle on a weekly basis. Maybe you and a friend who is also a caregiver check-in with each other twice a week by phone. Maybe you meet with two or three other caregivers (with or without the people you care for) and have a cup of coffee or go to the park for an hour.
The best option, however, is to join an appropriate support group in which you can compare experiences, discuss best practices for handling the more difficult obstacles in your lives, and share caretaker tips. Many of these groups are run by experts in counseling, medical, or care fields; this is a great opportunity to ask questions and gain valuable knowledge. If you cannot find an appropriate group near you and would prefer the benefits of in-person communication, start your own group!
Ultimately, having access to one person or an entire group provides a network that supports you as a carer and helps the person you care for. Not only do you gain valuable assistance, but the network can also eventually become a way for the person you care for to communicate with other people in similar situations.
Caretaker Guide Tip Two: Get Educated and Be Prepared to Advocate
To be a really effective caregiver, you have to understand what specific problems the person you care for is dealing with. Books, professional websites, those support groups we were just talking about, pamphlets — all of these are great ways to get educated. The more educated you are, the more able you are to provide quality care.
Knowing what you are talking about also means you understand what you hear, and it makes you a better communicator. Good communication is absolutely vital to caregiving in a variety of ways. It certainly makes you a more effective caregiver to understand what your patient is telling you.
Being able to communicate with the person you’re caring for is immensely essential. Everybody is different, and many conditions (such as autism) can affect the way a person gives and receives information. Knowing how to communicate with and listen to the person you care for helps achieve better outcomes and ensures quality care.
Additionally, better comprehension improves your ability to communicate with healthcare professionals for positive results. Communicating with professionals in an advanced manner can ensure all health outcomes are being met.
In many instances, advocating for someone else will be up to you — not just at doctors or therapists. You may need to advocate for your child at school or for anyone receiving care with a disability that is largely misunderstood. If you feel like communication is not your strong suit, practice until you feel confident listening, hearing, speaking, and understanding.
Caretaker Guide Tip Three: Take Care of Yourself Too
Caretakers have an unfortunate habit of forgetting to care for themselves. In fact, some surveys show just over half of caretakers do it well. This is extremely worrying. To give proper care, you must care for yourself first.
Creating a routine that works for you, eating well, staying hydrated, and getting sufficient sleep is fundamental to staying healthy. Setting boundaries is also vital to your mental health. When you are a caretaker, having others who can support you and give you a break is also essential.
If you get sick, a support system means someone can temporarily take over at least some of your caregiving duties. Even if you’re just feeling overwhelmed and need a break, you should have someone you can rely on. Caretaker burnout is a real and serious problem, and you simply must take steps to avoid it.
There are many ways you can stay healthy while performing your care duties. Ways to stay healthy might include:
- A daily walk with the person you support,
- Setting aside 30 minutes a day to relax,
- Finding a hobby you can do together, or
- Engage in activities that aid physical and mental wellbeing, such as equine therapy.
If you can find ways to mitigate burnout that include the person you care for, that’s great! However, making time for yourself is also crucial to staying healthy.
Caretaker Guide Tip Four: Avoid Isolation
Caretaking can be lonely, and this loneliness can creep up without warning. You may not even notice until it begins to negatively affect your mental health. If you find yourself longing for friendships, spending large quantities of your time by yourself or feeling hopeless, you may need to find some ways to socialize.
The novel coronavirus pandemic certainly has not helped this aspect of caregiving, especially if the person you care for is in a high-risk group. Online groups are a good place to begin safely. You can also make a special effort to befriend other carers; meet in outdoor spaces and practice social distancing. Make an agreement to socialize only with each other, so you limit the number of people you vicariously come in contact with.
If the effects of loneliness are creating a serious problem, consider respite care to give yourself the chance to socialize a little more freely. You should also consider that if you are lonely, the person you care for is lonely too. A safe setting that allows you to both get some interaction beyond each other can be helpful in multiple ways.
Caretaker Guide Tip Five: Take Advantage of Any Support Available to You
Caretakers do not have to do everything by themselves and through their own finances. Support is available. Are you maximizing options available to you? In the Central Arkansas area, personal care services in Little Rock are an option for many situations.
Grants, charitable support, local government funds, insurance, social work support, and other sources depending on your circumstances are all available to caretakers and to people with disabilities. If you are running out of money, living in unsuitable conditions, struggling to make ends meet, or simply need help providing the best quality of life possible to your loved one, financial and practical support is out there.
For More Information
Whether you have years of experience or are new to the world of caregiving, support is available to ensure you give (and receive) the best support possible. Integrity, Inc. provides community-based services for children or adults with disabilities and older adults who need support. We are committed to enabling independence and supporting families who need it. Contact us online or call (877) 452-9504 for more information and a one-on-one conversation about how we can help.