The Empowered Caregiver: Essential Skills & Knowledge

AdobeStock_224113424-300x199In this first installment of a 4-part series on caregiving tips and strategies, we’re looking at some important but often overlooked “big-picture” skills and knowledge that are critical to successfully navigating the caregiving journey.

Though becoming the primary caregiver for an aging parent is a responsibility many of us anticipate encountering at some point in our lives, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the physical, mental, and emotional demands of such a role.

And, if you are a member of the “sandwich generation,” you will be in the unenviable position of having to juggle caregiving and parenting responsibilities simultaneously, perhaps while managing your own work or career, and trying to have a life of your own.

Exhausting as it can be, caregiving can also be a very rewarding experience that ultimately brings families closer together. The key to creating the most positive outcomes is to find smart, strategic, caring ways to avoid burnout. 

It’s easy to get immediately bogged down by the day-to-day details of caregiving –  medications, appointments, safety considerations, dietary concerns, and so on. While each of these elements is important, it’s equally important to take a moment to establish your footing by acquiring some essential “big-picture” skills and knowledge.

Be realistic and make room for your feelings.

It can be devastating for both parent and child to have to face the reality of a difficult situation, whether that situation is the result of a disease diagnosis, a neurological condition, or the usual process of aging. Your parent may be unable to manage certain tasks on their own, and this not only curtails their lifestyle, but can also be enormously demoralizing. 

As a caregiver and human being, you share in your loved one’s experience, feeling their pain, shame, frustration, and anger. You also have to contend with your own emotions — both about what’s happening to them, and how what’s happening changes your life. It’s a lot to absorb. 

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. Acknowledging your emotions can help you manage them.

Learn about Medicare and Medicaid. AdobeStock_165010797-300x200

No matter what kind of care your loved one needs, you will be well served by learning how the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs can help. While their names are similar, each program has a distinct purpose and serves a specific audience. And, each state has specific rules for eligibility

Applying for these programs can be intimidating, especially if you are trying to protect assets from the high cost of long-term and nursing-home care, so it’s always prudent to reach out to a qualified elder law attorney if you need help. 

Level up your communication skills. 

Being a caregiver (and truly an advocate) entails managing ongoing conversations with a lot of different people. It’s imperative to communicate effectively with your loved one about their needs and concerns. You will also potentially need to converse with a variety of support people at different organizations and agencies: doctors, nurses, therapists, insurance agents, and so forth. You may also be in charge of keeping extended family in the loop.

Effective communication relies on your ability to understand and manage a conversation, be clear about your needs and wishes, and keep good records for future reference. 

Embrace your inner organizer.

AdobeStock_111672343-300x168As a caregiver, you will need to manage an ever-growing set of contacts, documents, and other resources. This will include healthcare documentation as well as legal and financial documents related to estate planning and other important concerns. Keeping everything centralized and organized will save you a lot of time and stress down the road. It’s also advisable to consider waterproof and fireproof storage options.

For estate planning, you want to first take a quick inventory to assess if any crucial documents — like a Will or a Healthcare Directive, for example — are missing. From there, you can determine what additional documentation needs to be completed to protect your loved one’s interests and assets.

This exercise provides a natural segue into getting a handle on your loved one’s financial situation. Financial considerations often take a back seat to urgent healthcare needs, but when the dust settles, there will likely be bills to be paid — medical and otherwise. For your loved one’s well being and your peace of mind, it’s critical to face any financial concerns head on. 

Set yourself up for success with a strong foundation of essential skills and knowledge.

Being a caregiver for an aging parent can be physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. However, taking on this responsibility can reward you with unexpected experiences and stronger family bonds. The key to success lies in adopting smart, strategic, and caring approaches to prevent burnout. 

Stay tuned for the next installment of this caregiving series which is about why and how to accept help.

Related Posts:

8 Signs of Caregiver Burnout and What You Can Do About It

Steps You Can Take When an Aging Parent Refuses Help

Are You Ready to Become Your Parent’s Primary Caregiver?

Paying Your Family to Care for You May Not Impact Your Medicaid Eligibility

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