8 tips for new family caregivers

It’s hard to know where to begin caring for someone, and caregiving is typically not a role anyone has training for! Often we are not prepared for these situations until we find ourselves in them. Currently 8 million Canadians are providing care to a family member or friend. Chances are someone you love is showing signs of needing more care and support. Or, someone is going through a sudden change in health or has been injured.

Here is some guidance from others who have been there:

Learn about home and community care supports in your area early on.

We can’t stress this one enough, because most people don’t think about the type of care their family member needs at home. A wide range of nursing, rehabilitation and personal support services (such as help with bathing and meals) are all available in your home. Home and community care is ideal when a person prefers to stay at home but needs ongoing care that can’t be easily or effectively provided solely by family and friends.

Have important conversations and respect their wishes.

Talk about the person’s wishes early on, for how and where they want to be cared for. A number of big decisions will need to be made surrounding home, work (including your own employment hours), finances and places of care (your home, the person’s home, moving/downsizing, an alternate care setting). You will need to learn together about how to provide care. Sometimes conversations will need to be revisited multiple times — this is normal.

Consider the financial implications.

Start thinking about some of the financial issues you may face as a caregiver. Could you have flexible work hours or take a leave of absence? How will your family member afford care if he/she needs increasing home care, or moves into a long term care home? Would you help her downsize or sell her house? These are difficult conversations but planning early on can help decision-making, and avoid a crisis. Talk to a local health authority, a social worker, or an information resource for caregivers.

Get organized.

Create a binder to have phone numbers, calendars, medical information, test results and lists of medications handy and up to date so that you can take them with you to appointments.

Create a team.

You can’t do this alone! Build relationships with the health care professionals involved in your loved one’s care and ask questions to create a care plan. Reach out and share your needs with friends, family and neighbours. Most people are happy to help but they are not sure how. When asking for help, be specific about your needs and show your appreciation. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it’s a sign of strength!

Understand the health condition.

The more you learn about the diagnosis, condition, research and treatment options, the better prepared you will be to provide care and avoid crisis. Prepare lists of questions to ask health care providers and ask for test results and keep track of them. Also, consider learning from patient communities online or on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, where many people are exchanging advice.

Take care of yourself.

Make time to care for your own needs too, which will help to ensure you are there for the long-term care of your loved one. A wide range of emotions come with caregiving, and you will likely find yourself trying to define (and then re-define) “a new normal.” Know what your signs of stress are and think about coping strategies—like a form of exercise, staying connected to your hobbies or having a person to vent frustrations to. Ask your doctor about caregiver support groups or search for online support, which can help you learn new skills and connect with other caregivers.

Buckle up.

Caregiving is a journey that will have ups and downs. It’s not a race, and you can’t do it alone. Take things one step at a time and try not to predict how everything will unfold. Some situations, such as caring for a spouse going through cancer treatment as well as your young children, will make you dig deep for strength you didn’t know you had. You have to just keep going, one day (or hour) at a time. Even when you feel alone, you will find love and support in places you couldn’t have imagined.

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