Olera’s Quick-Start Guide to Family Caregiving

Laura Herman, Dementia and Eldercare Professional
Added: 08.18.2022
11 minutes read
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Getting started as a caregiver can feel confusing and overwhelming. There’s so much to do and so much to learn – and it’s not really clear how or where to begin! 

This quick-start guide will provide an overview of what you’ll need to do to get off to a good start on your caregiving journey. We’ll provide lots of links to resources and further material for you to explore.
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You may also want to check out our Comprehensive Starter Guide to Family Caregiving for a detailed, all-in-one document chock full of helpful hints and valuable information. 

1. Commit to Your Own Care, Too 

Taking care of your own physical and mental health is absolutely critical for long-term success as a caregiver! 

Why:

  • Stress, sleep deprivation, and ignoring your own needs can hurt your health, lead to burnout, and affect your ability to provide good care.
  • By choosing to consciously look out for your own health, you can positively impact your caregiving experience – and your loved one’s care.

What to Do:

  1. Commit to becoming your own caregiver, too. 
  2. Set up a plan to ensure your own needs are met on a routine basis.
  3. Develop healthy routines that support your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing so you can stay at your best. 

Where to Learn More:

2. Learn What to Expect

Understanding your loved one’s needs and wishes can be a key step in preventing problems before they arise.  

Why:

  • When you understand your loved one’s health conditions, you can help them avoid unnecessary difficulty and suffering.
  • When your loved one’s environment is safe and supports their independence – and you have the necessary skills to assist them safely – you both run a lower risk of injury. 

What to Do:

  1. Learn all you can about your loved one’s medical conditions through their health care providers or online resources.
  2. Evaluate the safety of your loved one’s home using an online checklist or request a professional home safety evaluation from their doctor.
  3. Find classes or talk with health care professionals to learn about how to safely assist your loved one with any mobility, personal care, or medical needs they may have. 

Where to Learn More:


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3. Have the Hard Conversations

Common important yet difficult topics for discussion with an aging loved one include safety concerns, the need for more assistance, the need to move, and their wishes for future care.

Why:

  • Discussing tough topics ahead of time – ideally when your loved one can still participate – can prevent having to wrestle with hard decisions or family disagreements later. 

What to Do:

  1. Set up conversations for success by choosing the right time, place, and participants. There may need to be multiple discussions over time.
  2. Really listen to your loved one’s point of view with the intent to understand them.
  3. Focus on what they feel is important for their quality of life. 

Where to Learn More:

4. Plan for Future Care Needs

The process of planning for future care needs is called advanced care planning

Why:

  • Advance care planning raises the likelihood that your loved one will receive the type of care they want (and avoid what they don’t want) even if they can no longer speak for themselves. 
  • When unexpected changes in health occur, families are often left struggling to figure out what to do or manage the situation without the information or legal authority needed to do so.

What to Do:

  1. Support your loved one to learn about what types of decisions may need to be made, and discuss their wishes for potential future care needs with their doctor, loved ones.
  2. Support your loved one to choose someone who can act on their behalf in legal and financial matters – IF they become unable to do so themselves – and someone who can make medical decisions for them if needed.
  3. Document their wishes on valid, state-specific advance care planning documents (called advance directives), and provide copies to their representatives and healthcare providers. 

Where to Learn More:


5. Assemble a Care Team

A good team approach is a key to high-quality care. 

Why:

  • A supportive team enhances the quality of care your loved one receives, enables them to function at their best, and prevents problems wherever possible.
  • A team approach distributes responsibilities more widely, preserving your energy and extending your ability to keep giving your best.

What to Do:

  1. Make a list of your loved one’s needs and any areas where you could use more help.
  2. Identify the friends, family members, and professionals who currently provide your loved one with care or support, as well as those who might potentially be able to help.
  3. Make requests for support as specific as possible, allowing each person to choose how they’re comfortable helping.

Where to Learn More:


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6. Develop a Care Plan

Care plans can be powerful tools for organization and communication throughout the care team. 

Why:

  • A good care plan helps the team communicate and coordinate services and appointments. 
  • A care plan can reduce stress, disagreements, and mistakes by ensuring everyone – your loved one, family members, health care providers, and other supporters – are on the same page regarding their care needs and preferences. 

What to Do:

  1. Find a care plan template and complete it with as much input from your loved one as possible. Incorporate input from the doctor or others as needed.
  2. With your loved one’s permission, provide a copy of the care plan to everyone involved in their care.
  3. Review and update the care plan regularly to keep it up to date.

Where to Learn More:

7. Identify Resources

Although there are a number of financial and other supportive resources available, finding the ones that are right for your situation isn’t always easy or straightforward. 

Why:

  • Family caregivers commonly experience a heavy financial strain from caregiving, due to out-of-pocket costs, lost time and opportunities at work, or other factors.
  • Utilizing educational materials, respite breaks, community professionals and other resources can greatly impact your loved one’s quality of care and your overall caregiving experience.

What to Do:

  1. Create a caregiver budget to track your spending and assess how caregiving may affect your finances.
  2. Look into finding a senior financial planner and ask them about smart financial strategies for seniors or possible tax benefits for seniors or family caregivers.
  3. Find community resources at the Community Resource Finder, Eldercare Locator, or your local Area Agency on Aging,  

Where to Learn More:

8. Complete the Checklists

Checklists help you approach your caregiving responsibilities and your loved one’s needs in an organized and thorough fashion.

Why:

  • Checklists can keep you from missing important information, tasks, or steps, so you won’t be left scrambling at the last minute or trying to make do without vital knowledge or valuable resources.  
  • Following a series of checklists can increase your calm and confidence as they guide you through the often confusing world of family caregiving. 

What to Do:

  1. Gather your loved one’s medical, financial and legal information and documents.
  2. Ensure advance care planning and estate planning documents are complete.
  3. Keep documents in a safe, yet accessible place. Many caregivers find that secure online storage services are a good solution, especially when sharing care duties with long-distance siblings.
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