“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” With approximately 43.5 million caregivers in the United States as of 2015, Rosalyn Carter, former first lady and pioneering advocate for caregivers, is right on the money.
Whether you call yourself a caregiver or not, it is important to identify that you are at least a caregiver to yourself. What is a family caregiver? You might be a family caregiver if you have helped a disabled, chronically ill, or elderly loved one or friend with any of the following tasks:
- Accompanied a loved one to a doctor’s appointment.
- Assisted someone with grocery shopping or running other errands.
- Reduced your work hours or took family leave and/or decreased time you spend on activities and hobbies you enjoy to help ensure your loved one was well cared.
- Woken up at night worrying that your loved one is okay.
- Helped a loved one manage their medications or other daily tasks that have become too difficult.
- Been an advocate for a loved one who was unable to advocate for themselves.
- Provided direct care or assistance with activities of daily living regularly for someone no longer able to complete the tasks on their own.
If you have done any of these tasks for someone you care about, then you are family caregiver. Caregivers live down the road, live with the person needing care, and sometimes live across the county from the cared person. Caregivers aren’t always the one providing direct care—they may be helping coordinate care or helping their loved one with their finances. Each type of caregiver comes with different challenges; regardless of what kind of caregiver you are we hope one of these tips from HelpGuide.org is helpful to you:
- Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll feel about your role as caregiver.
- Seek out other caregivers. It helps to know you’re not alone.
- Trust your instincts. Remember, you know your family member best. Don’t ignore healthcare professionals but also listen to your gut.
- Encourage your loved one’s independence. Caregiving does not mean doing everything for your loved one. Be open to new ways of doing things or technologies/strategies that allow your loved one to be as independent as possible.
- Know your limits. Be realistic about how much of your time and yourself you can give.
- Attend to your own needs. Remember what the flight attendant says before takeoff, “If the oxygen masks drop down, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.” The happier and healthier you are as a caregiver the better care you are going to provide your loved one.
- Accept your feelings. Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions including anger, fear, resentment, guilt, helplessness and grief. These feelings don’t mean you don’t love the person you are caring for—they simply mean you are human.
- Learn about and take advantage of community resources. Call the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Northwest Wisconsin at 877-485-2372 to learn about local resources available to you as a caregiver.
- Ask for help. Many people want to help but don’t know how to help so give them specific things they can do.
Unfortunately, we all too often focus on and talk about just the challenges, frustrations and stress of caring for someone but caregiving isn’t without rewards. This month also take time to consider the ways your life has been enriched by your caregiving journey. Jane Mahoney from the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWAAR) reminds us that caregiving:
- Offers you a chance to “give back” to someone important in your life
- Encourages you to spend more quality time with your loved one
- Can get you in touch with your family history
- Gives you an opportunity to learn new skills
- Helps you recognize your own support system
- Can help you become more compassionate and loving
- Leads you to plan for your own future
Submitted by: Carrie Myers, Resource Specialist, ADRC of NW WI
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