There are an estimated 40 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S.1, with a majority of caregivers — around 86% -- caring for a family member2. November is recognized as National Family Caregiver Month, and with that we want to share some caregiver support and tips, from self-care ideas to items you can get to help in your care like ear plugs and pill containers.
Being a caregiver spans a lot of responsibilities — providing care in the home, helping manage medications, transporting to and from appointments, and assisting the patient with physical therapy exercises, personal care, hygiene, and other daily activities. While caring for a family member or other loved one is crucial to that individual’s health and mental state, don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
Organize important information
Caregiving means you need to know the ins and outs of someone else’s medical status, like what medications they take and which doctors they go to. Keep this information organized with all information up-to-date and easy to find. Create a list of daily and weekly tasks you may need to accomplish with or for the individual you’re caring for. This will make it simple and efficient when going to new appointments, refilling prescription medications, etc.
Speaking of medications, keep them in a pill planner for easy organization to help with efficient and accurate distribution. If you’re worried about the individual you’re caring for getting into medication, such as a memory care patient who may forget that you dispense their medication for them, opt for a locking container so they can’t get into it without your assistance.
Communicate openly and honestly
A big part of caregiving is communication, both with the one you’re caring for and their family. Communicate often to understand their needs, especially as those needs inevitably change. Open communication with family members is also important, to keep them up-to-date on any health or other situations they need to be aware of. Communicate honestly with yourself and those in your network who care about you as you’re spending your time caring for someone else. If you need anything throughout your caregiving experience, whether that’s help physically or mentally, make sure you’re communicating that, as well. Which leads us to our next piece of advice for caregiver support…
Connect with other caregivers
You’re giving a world of support to the individual you’re caring for, but are you receiving the support you deserve? As one of tens of millions of caregivers across the country, remember you’re not alone! If you have questions about how something is being done, realize that you’re likely not the first one who’s had that certain concern, and seek the support of others who are going through a similar situation. These days there are support groups for almost anything you can think of — caregivers included. You can find support groups for caregivers of individuals with specific conditions, caregivers in your local area, support groups you can find online, and more.3 Between your family, the family members of the individual you’re caring for, other caregivers, and medical and other professionals, build a good team to help you be prepared to take action on and communicate about anything you may need support for.
Take care of your health
The object of much of your focus and concerns will understandably lie with the individual you are caring for. But don’t forget to take care of your own health! Caregiving is hard, but we don’t need to tell you that. It can be taxing both mentally and physically. Take time for physical activity, even if it’s just a short walk or a 10-minute exercise. In addition to helping lower blood pressure and cholesterol, exercise can help reduce stress — which you’re likely feeling with the pressure of caregiving in addition to the rest of your daily responsibilities — according to the American Heart Association.4
Watch out for stress and depression symptoms that may start or be exacerbated by caregiving. Becoming easily angry, losing interest in activities, increased headaches or other health problems, and feeling tired often are signs that Mayo Clinic recommends to watch out for that may lead to stress.5
Make your health a priority so you’re in top shape to be taking care of others. Give yourself adequate breaks. Spend time reading, listening to music, or doing any other activity that will help you relax. Exercise, join a caregiver support group as mentioned above, but also take quality time resting, and don’t forget to just breathe! While you’re busy with appointments for the individual you’re caring for, don’t forget to get to your own appointments. If you live with the individual you’re caring for or have a noisy home yourself and need to block out noise when relaxing or sleeping, try foam ear plugs to help.
Remember how flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others? The same principle applies here. In order to help others, you need to help yourself first.
Along with the tips above, don’t forget to keep up with all other general healthy practices — eat nutritious, healthy food; get plenty of quality sleep; drink enough water. Caregiving is a rewarding, gratifying, and respectable career. Especially if you do this work unpaid or are part of the majority who cares for a family member, helping an individual remain as comfortable in their home setting as they can and maintaining their dignity is something to be commended. As a caregiver, we already know that you’re compassionate, selfless, and organized. Make sure to keep your own health, both mental and physical, as a priority so you can keep giving the highest level of care you can.
- Senior Care, Inc. National Family Caregiver Month (2023). https://seniorcareinc.org/national-family-caregiver-month-2023/
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Being a Caregiver. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/caregiving/being-a-caregiver
- AARP. How to Find a Caregiver Support Group That’s Right for You. https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2021/support-groups.html
- American Heart Association. Top 10 Caregiver Tips for Maintaining Health and Well-Being. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/caregiver-support/top-10-caregiver-tips-for-staying-healthy-and-active
- Mayo Clinic. Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784