Caregiving can be one of the greatest gifts you can offer someone you love, but it also can be one of the most challenging. As much as you might want to help your loved one, you may not know where to begin or what to expect.
Caregiving doesn’t just come with a set of specific responsibilities; it comes with unique challenges that you need to prepare for ahead of time.
Read on for 6 handy tips and advice on how to care for an aging loved one while maintaining your sanity and self-care simultaneously.
1) Care for yourself first
One of the most important things you can do before you start taking care of an aging loved one is to take care of yourself. Doing this will allow you to care for your loved one better, and with less fatigue and burnout. When you’re caring for a loved one, you’ll often find yourself short on sleep, energy, and other precious resources.
If you don’t have a solid support system to help you bounce back from these periods of burnout, you could find yourself in a constant state of exhaustion that makes it difficult to care for others. When you’re feeling tired or burned out, try to take some time to rest and unwind.
Find ways to relax and decompress; taking this time will allow you to reclaim your energy and recharge when you need to. It can be as simple as taking a walk, meditating, lifting weights, going for a run, or spending time with close friends and family members.
2) Don’t take on caregiving duties unless you’re fully available
There’s a common misconception that if you’re caring for an aging loved one, you need to immediately begin making changes to your life. For example, if you’re currently working a full-time job and want to start volunteering more hours, you might think you need to make this change to be able to care for your loved one.
While it would be wonderful to be able to work more hours or volunteer more hours, you should only do this if your current schedule can accommodate these new commitments. Caregiving shouldn’t be a way of forcing you to change the way you live your life or what you do for a living.
Your main goal as a caretaker is to help your loved one remain as comfortable and as independent as possible as they age. If you need to make changes in your life to be able to do this, that’s okay, but don’t make this priority when you start caregiving.
3) Create a plan for regular self-care
One of the most important things you can do before you start taking care of an aging loved one is to take care of yourself. When you’re feeling exhausted from caregiving duties or you find yourself struggling with burnout, you need to take some time for yourself.
At the beginning of a caregiving role, you might be so caught up in caring for your loved one that you forget to take care of yourself. Many caregivers don’t plan their self-care because they assume they don’t have time, but you need to find ways to maintain your well-being if you want to continue taking care of your loved one.
There are many ways to do this, from meditating every day to eating healthy and nutritious meals, to going for walks or relaxing with a favorite hobby. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s an important way to keep yourself healthy and balanced.
4) Be realistic about your loved one’s limitations
When you’re caring for an aging loved one, you will often find yourself frustrated by the person’s limitations and stubbornness. This is okay, but you need to be realistic about both. Some of your loved one’s limitations could be related to their health, such as being unable to walk as far or stand for as long as they used to.
Other limitations could be related to their cognitive abilities, such as being unable to remember people’s names as easily as they used to. When you’re dealing with a loved one’s limitations, don’t make them out to be something they’re not.
You should be able to communicate with your loved one as honestly and as openly as possible so they know what they’re dealing with when it comes to getting help.
5) Stay connected with your loved one through communication and caregiving activities together
One of the most important things you can do before you start taking care of an aging loved one is to take care of yourself. When you’re caring for an aging loved one, you should try to maintain a strong connection with your loved one.
This can be done through regular phone calls, visits, letters, and emails. When you’re caring for an aging loved one, try to make sure you include your loved one in your daily activities, such as going to the gym, taking a walk outside, or spending time with friends and family.
Communication is important not only because you should talk to your loved one often, but also because it can help you stay connected with your loved one as they age. Spending time with your loved one when they’re able to be physically present can help you build a connection with them that lasts long after they’re no longer able to be physically present.
6) Care for yourself after caregiving duties are over
When you’re caring for an aging loved one, it’s important to remember that you’re not just doing so for that person; you’re doing so for yourself as well. Sometimes, this might be the most difficult thing to remember.
When you’re caring for an aging loved one, you should try to maintain a healthy balance between adjusting to your new schedule and enjoying the things you used to do before. Caregivers often find themselves in a constant state of adjustment, which can be exhausting and overwhelming. There are many ways to enjoy your free time while adjusting to a new schedule.
You can sign up for an exercise class, volunteer at a local organization, or join a social club that you used to enjoy before caregiving duties. Doing something you enjoy when you’re adjusting to a new schedule is a healthy way to release stress and maintain a balance between adjusting to your new schedule and enjoying the things you used to do before caregiving duties.