Busch’s Guide for First-Time Family Caregivers is a three-part series. Check back for the next post in the series.
Today, nearly 40 million Americans serve as family caregivers, providing assistance to an ill or aging loved one who may not be able to care for themselves. Family caregiver’s daily activities may include grooming, transporting and medical monitoring—all the while providing for their own family and working a 9-5 job.
While hours vary, family caregivers (spouse, partner, adult child, sibling, niece, nephew, or grandchild) spend anywhere between 20 and 40 hours per week providing care to an aging loved one. This role, although challenging, can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of one’s life.
From balancing daily priorities to assisting with basic needs, there are several factors and unknowns family caregivers face. So whether you’re just beginning your caregiving role, or planning to support an aging loved one in the near future, we can help you prepare to care in three starter steps.
1. Do Your Homework
As a new family caregiver, you’ll want to educate yourself on your loved one’s health condition.
There are a number of resources available both online and offline to help you understand specific diseases, symptoms, treatments and more. These include:
- American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
- National Institute on Aging (NIA)
- Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA)
By gathering information, you can better prepare for any medical obstacle that may come your way while caring for a loved one.
2. Develop a Care Plan
Because the majority of family caregivers do not have a medical background, your loved one’s doctor can also serve as a resource to you. If possible, accompany your loved one at their next check-up.
Use this time to ask questions about your loved one’s health. Sample questions may include:
- What illness or condition does my loved one have?
- What are the treatment options?
- What are the risks and side effects of the recommended prescription?
- Are tests necessary? When will we get the results?
- What is the average recovery time?
- What costs can we expect?
- Do you have any written information we can take home?
- Is a follow-up visit necessary? If so, when should we follow-up?
- What can we do at home or between visits to support your recommendations?
By being involved in the conversation, you can develop a personalized care plan to serve as a roadmap in your family’s caregiving journey. Keep in mind that a care plan is ever evolving. Finding the proper services and programs may take some time, and your loved one’s needs will likely increase as he or she ages.
Share the doctor’s input and basic care plan with other family members so your support system is aligned, and your loved one receives as consistent of care as possible.
3. Prepare the Home
Once you’ve gathered research and developed a care plan, it’s time to prepare your home (if your loved one will live with you) or your loved one’s home (if they are staying in his or her residence) for caregiving.
You’ll need to make adjustments to provide a safe place for your aging loved one to navigate to and from rooms. Some general home modifications include:
- Widening doorways and hallways
- Installing railings, ramps and lifts
- Replacing knobs
- Removing tripping hazards
- Snaking electrical cords
- Updating light fixtures
Additionally, you’ll want to consider installing or re-installing a landline for your loved one to make and receive phone calls. Be sure the phone is senior friendly, and that he or she feels comfortable using the phone in time of need.
These changes can improve accessibility for your love one, preventing accidents in the process.
Additional Resources for Family Caregivers
Caregiving is often a 24/7 job, and with it, we sometimes forget to slow down and take time to talk with our loved ones. To help you connect with those you care for, we encourage you to download Busch’s Essential Guide to Meaningful Conversation. Packed with 25+ conversation topics and tips, you can have discussions about life’s most important questions, including: “How do you want to be remembered?” with aging loved ones.
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