The role of “caregiver” means different things for different people. For some, a caregiver is seen as a constant and natural part of life, something they’ve always seen themselves as providing. For others, the role is taken on more suddenly, in response to a loved one’s injury or change of condition. But no matter what you view your role as, there are a few things every caregiver should do to make life easier for their loved ones… and for themselves.
Providing medical or comfort assistance
One of the primary and most universally acknowledged roles of a caregiver is to work as a medical or emotional advocate for a loved one. This can mean making appointments, keeping in touch with medical professionals, ensuring that the loved one takes his/her medication, making the home safe and comfortable (if they live alone or with you), accompanying them on assisted living facility tours, and more.
In addition to the medical and “practical” support a caregiver is expected to offer, simply being there for a loved one is one of the biggest facets of the caregiver role. Above all, you should be their “someone” to call and lean on for support when it is needed.
One of the biggest mistakes a caregiver can make is trying to do it all. Not every task, checkup, phone call and appointment can be handled by you. A caregiver needs to learn to delegate (whether it be family members, friends or professionals) the things they can’t reasonably accomplish.
A caregiver is often one of the closest (if not the closest) individual to a loved one. They will be spending lots of time with the loved one, and therefore should always be observant and aware of any possible changes in their loved one’s behavior, demeanor, and mental or physical abilities. Changes can sometimes just be a result of the progression of age, but they can also be more serious. Either way, it is important for you to watch for “signs” to ensure that your loved one is safe and comfortable, whether they live with you, alone, or at an assisted living facility.
Taking time for themselves
Finally, one of the most important parts of a caregiver’s job is taking time for themselves. This can be done in a variety of ways—spending time with children, a spouse or friends, catching a movie, participating in a favorite hobby, enjoying time outdoors, etc. No matter what you choose to do, it is important that you take time to mentally recharge and relieve yourself of the stress you may accumulate throughout the day, week or month. By doing so, you’re not only taking care of yourself—you are actually making it easier to care for a loved one, since you’ll be more alert, awake and at ease.
Whether you’ve been a caregiver for three months or three years, never underestimate the influence you have on your loved one’s life—and always be sure to take advantage of resources for both your loved one and yourself. There are many others in your position who have experience and advice to share with you—you just need to ask!