Caregiver tips: Caring for yourself as you care for others

A caregiver and a man in a wheelchair

Many of us will assume the role of caregiver at some point in our lives. According to the AARP, more than 1 in 5 Americans today are caregivers — meaning they provide care for a family member dealing with long-term sickness or disability — a number that continues to rise.1 The role can be challenging yet rewarding as well: The report found that more than half of caregivers felt it gave them a sense of purpose and meaning.

Depending on circumstances, playing the role of caregiver can last a relatively short period or span many years. And it could begin anytime, whether you’re studying, building a career, raising a family, or all of the above.

With that in mind, caring for yourself while in a caregiver role includes knowing the resources and outside assistance available that could help relieve the stress and pressures that can come with that added responsibility. Here are some things to consider, whether you’re a caregiver now or may be in the future.

Create a plan before you need one

Sherri Snelling, a corporate gerontologist and CEO/Founder of the Caregiving Club 2, says learning about the resources available to help prepare for a caregiver role should begin sooner than you may think, so that you can avoid the stress of needing to develop a plan at the last minute due to an emergency medical situation.

“Look at it as a natural chapter in our lives,” she says. “It’s the same as going to college or buying a house. You need to be prepared in advance to take those next steps in this case as well.”

This also includes having conversations with all family members about your potential role as a caregiver. If you’re 40 years old with a loved one who is age 70, Snelling says you should already be having conversations around caregiving. Working together can help you create a plan around their needs, as well as your own.

Part of those family conversations should include deciding who would assume the caregiver role and why, Snelling says. For example, if there are several children in a family, do some live closer to someone needing care? Is there someone with a particular area of expertise such as medical, legal, or health care that would be best suited to the role, or who could be called upon when needed?

Caregiving can be time-consuming and challenging. And it can impact you financially in a variety of ways.
- Sherri Snelling, a corporate gerontologist and CEO/Founder of the Caregiving Club

Consult with your financial and legal advisors

Caregiving can be time-consuming and challenging. And it can impact you financially in a variety of ways, whether it’s needing to hire professional help, cover out-of-pocket expenses, or reduce work hours to provide essential care. These challenges can affect your long-term financial goals.

Consider scheduling time with your financial or wealth and legal advisors to discuss how caregiving may change your financial picture, including potential impacts to your own retirement plan. They can also offer input including documents you may need to update when it comes to trusts and estate plans regarding caregiving. That way, you can help keep your plans for the future on track while caring for someone in the present.

Know your options for temporary help

First, do not be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s friends, associates, members of your faith community, or others, teamwork will reduce the likelihood of burnout and enhance the care you provide. Working as a team can result in well-deserved time for yourself to watch a movie, read a book, or enjoy a nap.

Another option to consider is respite care. This resource provides short-term relief for primary caregivers, providing help for your loved one through a care agency, and can occur in a professional setting or at home. Knowing the details of this option can be a massive relief for caregivers in need of a break, or for families hoping to take a vacation to recharge, especially when others are unavailable to help.

One helpful resource for finding local respite care options and contacts is the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. While most insurance plans do not cover respite care, Medicare will cover most of the cost for up to five days of respite care for patients receiving hospice care.

Explore hiring a geriatric care manager

Whether loved ones are being cared for in an assisted-living facility or receiving care at home, they likely still need your time and support as advocate, Snelling says. While meals and housekeeping might be taken care of, other important needs may not.

According to Snelling, “geriatric care management is an emerging trend in health care.” A geriatric care manager is usually a licensed nurse or social worker who can help conduct care-planning assessments, arrange in-home help or other services, or provide crisis intervention. They can be an especially helpful resource if you live far away from your loved one.

“For many people, it can be worth the money to let that expert be your guide,” she says. “Having this resource can help you and your loved one avoid unexpected surprises — both emotional and financial.”

One place to search for geriatric care managers is the Aging Life Care Association, a nonprofit with more than 2,000 members.

Footnotes


1 “2020 Report: Caregiving in the United States,” AARP, May 14, 2020.
2 Caregiving Club provides consulting services for a range of organizations, including Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and focuses on longevity, older adults, and family caregivers.