The Journey of Caregiving
Your journey to caregiving may be gradual or it can be sudden. Most often it begins with filling a small need of a loved one and it eventually progresses from there - giving you time to adjust. But even if your caregiving role begins due to a sudden illness, the stages of the journey are the same. Once a need becomes apparent, you will want to look at the legalities. Does the love one have a Power of Attorney, etc? If you have the time to prepare for this role you will want to be sure to ask questions of the care recipient as to what their wishes are and be sure to check with health care professionals and a lawyer who is familiar with eldercare issues. Do your research and investigate all health care options.
However deep your caregiving role becomes, it is very important not to forget to take care of your own needs. Often the caregiver gives up things they love to do and neglects to take care of their own health. Learn to rely on family, friend or community services for a little break. Caregiver burnout is a common problem and can easily be prevented. Sometimes a daily routine works best but be sure you determine your limit and be sure not to exceed what you are truly able to handle. Develop a support system, join a caregiver’s support group, or lean on a close friend or family member when needed. Some virtues you will have to practice are patience, understanding and a sense of humor can help. Remember to keep the fun in everyday routines.
The Stages of Caregiving
Caregivers realize that they are "it." This means you are suddenly defining your role in relationship to caring for another person. At this stage, there can be all sorts of emotions depending on how you view this role and depending on your previous relationship to the person cared for. This can be the first time that you feel a sense of role reversal with an aging parent.
A mistake that often happens in the beginning stages of caring for a loved one is doing a task for them that they should do for their selves. It is important to keep their mind and body active in even the smallest of tasks. Keep activities handy, such as jigsaw puzzles, puzzle books, favorite movies. Find the things that bring happiness and be sure they are accessible to the loved one.
At this stage, a caregiver will start to think about finding outside help for an aging parent. This is where a person may start to explore the variety of healthcare and social services available and start to get involved with other caregivers or with aging services. This is also a time to start making your own health a priority since your work is likely to be harder at this point and the journey ahead will require you to have stamina and strength.
This is the "work" phase. It may involve watching your aging parent decline and health worsen. You may also be experiencing caregiver burnout and stress. Sometimes, this is a stage of difficult decisions related to getting more professional daily care and experiencing conflicts with your siblings over care and finances, etc.
You may see your caregiving journey come to an end when you recognize the need to place the care recipient in caregiving facility, or you may recognize the end is near. End of life decisions are among the hardest of all life decisions to make. At some point you role will be to help prepare them for the transition or for what time they have left. Remember to adhere to the wishes you talked about at the beginning of your caregiving journey. This is a time to reflect on the love you shared and the good feeling about the journey together. As your journey ends, take time to mourn and grieve.