Being a family caregiver doesn’t come with a manual. Every situation is different, and it can be easy to make missteps along the way, which can make things even more stressful than they already are. Luckily, many of these missteps are avoidable!
In this article, we’ll discuss five of the most common mistakes that family caregivers make and how you can avoid them. Armed with some information, your caregiving experience will be much less stressful and more enjoyable for both you and your parent.
1. Waiting too long to make decisions – There are a variety of ways in which waiting too long can end up creating a lot of stress – or maybe even consequences more dire than that. Many family caregivers wait too long before intervening in their parent’s situation. It can be hard to make that decision to start taking more control over their lives but putting it off can lead to major health issues like falls or serious medical conditions. Not talking to them about their situation early and often can also be problematic. Many seniors can be reluctant or resistant to making those crucial decisions about aging and the end of life for themselves, so it’s important to take the lead to make it happen.
How to avoid it: Look for the signs early to know when it could be time to get your parent more help. Don’t wait for them to come to you, because that may not ever happen. It’s also a good idea to be proactive about making plans for what happens when they need help, any documents that need to be created, etc. If you begin laying the groundwork for getting help early on, it will likely go more smoothly. Check out this article on things to do before a caregiver begins caring for your parent.
2. Not taking care of yourself – When your parent needs you, it can be very tempting to put their needs above your own – even to the point of sacrificing your own health. In an AARP study, nearly one-quarter of family caregivers said that they feel their caregiving has made their own health worse and that it’s made it more difficult to stay healthy. Putting your own physical and mental health needs to the side while you care for someone else is a common mistake, and to keep it from happening, you must make a conscious effort.
How to avoid it: Even the simple act of getting enough sleep can help you stay healthy, reduce your stress, and help you be a better caregiver to your loved one. Eating right and exercising are other ways you can take care of yourself to better handle stress and difficult emotions. You can also find little ways to take moments for yourself and relieve stress, even if you feel you don’t have a lot of time to do it. Check out this article “8 quick, science-backed ways to reduce caregiver stress” to learn more. And remember – you can’t pour water out of an empty cup!
3. Doing everything on your own – As a child or a spouse, it’s easy to feel like you have a burden to care for your parent or partner on your own. It can be difficult to ask for help, and it’s common to feel guilt when you want to take a break or have someone else provide care. But doing so can easily lead to burnout and health issues, as we discussed above.
How to avoid it: One of the smartest things you can do as a family caregiver is to form a care team. Essentially, organize friends, family, and even professionals to play a small role in helping you care for your loved one. This may also include bringing in some help from a non-medical caregiver. Many hands make for light work, and having others give you a bit of relief now and then will go a long way to helping both you and your loved one. Learn all about forming a care team in this recent article.
4. Not seeking peer support – Being a family caregiver can be very isolating, and even if you have some help from friends or a professional caregiver, you may still feel lonely and misunderstood in your situation. It’s incredibly helpful to connect with others who are dealing with the same issues that you are, but many caregivers don’t feel right taking the time away from their loved ones to do that. Peer support is another way you can take care of yourself, which directly impacts your ability to care for your loved one.
How to avoid it: There are TONS of support groups out there for family caregivers, both in-person and virtual. They can even be specific to the condition your loved one is suffering from. Even if you can’t make it to meetings, you can still join Facebook groups and get the support you need on your own schedule. Check out some options in this post.
5. Not doing the research/asking questions – It’s very easy to let your guard down when you’re tired and potentially stressed from being your parent’s primary caregiver. There are MANY choices you have to make and lots of outside people talking to you and telling you what’s best for your parent. It’s not uncommon to want to just go with what the first doctor or organization/company tells you. Whether bringing in a professional caregiver, or dealing with health care providers, doing your due diligence takes extra time and effort, but it’s worth it.
How to avoid it: Seek out resources and recommendations online, from friends, and from your local council on aging. Try to attend doctor’s appointments and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When it comes to in-home care, read more about what to look for in a good in-home care agency in this post.
Family caregiving can be difficult, and it’s okay if you don’t do everything perfectly. Every caregiver makes missteps at some point. But being aware of them can help you more easily identify when it may be happening and navigate your way through it.
Know that help from a professional is available if you need it. If forming a care team is the strategy you choose, we’d love to talk with you about in-home care. You can learn more about our services here, or reach out to book a complimentary discovery call.