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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Top 5 Tips for Caregiving

by Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW

The National Center for Caregiving reports there are “approximately 43.5 million caregivers that have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months.” Being a caregiver can be challenging, rewarding, humbling, and stressful. People in the U.S. continue to live longer thanks to improved medications and medical treatment. These numbers will likely grow. Below are some important tips to keep in mind if you find yourself in a caregiver role:

1. Put Together a Caregiver Team: Caregivers must balance their role as a caregiver with family, work, school, and other relationships and commitments. There may be times when you cannot always do it alone. You also may need breaks because you are physically tired, you have health issues, or you need to emotionally recharge. Consider what tasks will need to be done and how frequently they are necessary?  Identify possible candidates to help. Consider family, friends, neighbors, and people from your local religious institutions. You can also hire professional help. Your local Area on Aging office can refer you. You can also find a local geriatric care specialist in your area who can help you assess and arrange what will be needed @

2.   You Bring Your Previous Relationship to Your Role as a Caregiver: If you are taking care of a loved one your previous relationship may influence how smoothly your new role as caregiver goes. For example, if you are a  caregiver for a parent, and suddenly you are parenting your parent this may be a difficult adjustment for you both. Was it a positive relationship or one filled with conflict? Were those conflicts resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? This influences why you are taking on the role of caregiver. Is it because you want to help? Do you feel obligated and really don’t want to do it? If your relationship was one of  mutual love and trust your caree is more apt to work with you rather than against you in your new role as caregiver. If you assume this role out of obligation you need to consider if your are the best person to do it. Sometimes a non-family member may be more successful in this role especially doing personal care tasks like bathing and dressing.

3. Understand Finances and Insurance: In order to develop a caregiving plan you need to know what financial options are available. Take a close look at insurance coverage to make sure you understand what is covered in terms of home care like physical, occupational, and speech therapy, home health aides, and nursing. Also review coverage for nursing home care. Assisted living is generally not covered by insurance. If your loved one is a veteran there may be benefits available. Also if you have limited finances, medicaid may be an option. Eligibility is determined by financial assets and varies between states. Go to  Medicare can cover skilled nursing home stays after a hospitalization and short term home help like physical, occupational, speech therapies and a home health aide depending on your diagnosis. Go to to learn what is covered.

   4.      Seek Emotional Support-One of the most common mistakes that we make as
            caregivers is to ignore our own needs. Burnout is often the result. When you become
            a caregiver it can be emotionally and physically demanding. You may find yourself
            grieving over the loss of the person your loved one once was. This can be very
            painful and take an emotional toll. You need to allow time for yourself to physically recharge. It is also very important to have someone you can trust and rely on to talk
            to at times that feel overwhelming. It may be a family member, friend, or clergy. It may be useful to find a healthcare professional with expertise in aging to offer counseling.
            On line caregiver chat sites can offer comfort, resources, and support.

   5.     Identify Warning Signs-Your loved ones may not be able to self assess when their
           physical or mental condition begins to decline. Identify warning signs which are mutually       agreed upon indicators that additional help is warranted. Watch for things like falling,
            memory loss, mobility decline, lack of attention to personal hygiene, sudden weight
            loss or gain, sudden unexplained  damage to car. These are potential indicators there may
            be functional problems your loved one is experiencing.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW has been a patient advocate and medical social worker for
            40 years. She has done individual, group, and family counseling. She is the award winning author of the Best Self Help:Relationships Book of 2016 Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. She also does freelance writing on health related topics. Find out more about Iris at

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