At some time in our lives, many of us will provide care to a loved one. This person is often our aging parent who is struggling with a chronic long-term health condition, disability or problem related to aging. We may even find ourselves thrust into the caregiving role, unprepared and unsure about what challenges may lie ahead. Many of us are working, have families of our own to support, are dealing with mid-life and work-related issues, and already feel stressed to our maximum. As caregivers, we may be sandwiched between the needs of our own families, our own personal needs and those of our aging parents.
There are many examples of how the caregiving role might begin, all leading to the same conclusion – your loved one needs support now. In fact, it’s usually the case that one family member ends up taking on the main caregiving role and becomes the family “spokesperson" for the aging family member. If this is happening in your life, you are now a family caregiver.
As you journey into your role, you will find that information is power. Learn as much as you can about your loved one's condition and its impact on both their ongoing physical and cognitive situation. This information will be helpful for you in understanding what is happening to your loved one, why their behaviour may be changing and why their physical care needs are increasing. At moments when you feel frustrated as a caregiver (and we all have those feelings), reflecting on the concrete information about your loved one's health condition can help you to see the situation more objectively. Your parent may display their own anger or frustration about the situation toward their caregiver. This can lead to conflict between you and your loved one, and some caregivers may experience ongoing resistance to their caregiving attempts.
Accessing community-based assessment and home care services is an important aspect of proactive caregiving. In-home geriatric and mental health assessments can be used to evaluate your loved one and/or refer them to appropriate resources within the health care system, including home care. Ongoing visits to your loved one's family doctor will also be a major source of support and information sharing, for both you and your aging family member.
While accessing the medical system and home care supports can feel overwhelming, know that you are not alone. In-home supports can provide your loved one with the practical assistance they may need to keep them safely at home while they are still able to manage in the community. This type of hands-on support can reduce your worry and anxiety about your loved one, knowing that someone will be checking on your parent routinely. Practical home care supports can also assist us as caregivers by supporting and supervising our loved one, which frees us up to be with our own family and friends. This time away from your caregiving role is another aspect of being a proactive caregiver and of self-care.
Becoming a caregiver does not mean that you alone need to take over every aspect of your parent's care. Being a proactive caregiver means becoming a part of a caregiving team including other family members and community-based professional caregivers. As a caregiver, you will need to be cooperative and organized, understand the resources your parent has, what you and other family members can offer, and what you will need from the health care system.
Caregiving can be challenging and at times complicated, but by accessing the available resources and ensuring you “care for the caregiver” by looking after yourself well, you and your aging family members will make it through what lies ahead.