Tips to Help You Care for a Sick or Elderly Loved One
Advice and Tips for Family Caregivers
Caring for a loved one is fulfilling, but it can also be a complicated responsibility. According to the John A. Hartford Foundation, more than 18 million caregivers in the United States help an older loved one navigate the complexities of aging. Most caregivers receive no training or preparation, and many don’t know where to turn when they feel alone, confused or overwhelmed.
At Baptist Memorial Health Care, doctors, nurses and staff provide quality care and resources for older adults and their families. To help you learn to thrive as a family caregiver, we spoke with Angela Hamblen Kelly, executive director of the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief.
Take Care of Your Own Health
Caregivers help manage everything from prescriptions and meal plans to appointment schedules and more. As a caregiver, you may drive your loved one to religious events, help him or her exercise and assist with bathing or showering. Because these daily requirements take center stage, many caregivers ignore their own needs.
“Caregiving is a physically demanding job,” said Hamblen Kelly. “Often, caregivers lack sleep and self-care. They may neglect their own nourishment, hydration and other physical needs because they’re focused on caring for someone else.”
Hamblen Kelly tells caregivers to eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. If you get adequate sleep but still feel exhausted, irritable or hopeless, talk to your doctor about signs of anxiety and depression.
“Caring for a loved one has emotional impacts as well,” said Hamblen Kelly. “Some caregivers feel emotionally or spiritually confused. It’s not uncommon to lose sight of who you are or experience feelings of failure. If you begin to feel isolated or exhausted, pause and remember to take care of yourself.”
Set aside time to process your feelings and tend to your emotional well-being. Write in a journal, confide in a trusted friend or mental health professional, or join an online support group where you can share your feelings in a safe environment.
Keep track of daily caregiving responsibilities, such as assisting with personal care. Make a schedule for bathing, grooming, dressing and exercise. Write meal plans for easier shopping trips and meal preparation. Hamblen Kelly also recommends setting reminders in your phone or on a calendar, so you don’t miss an appointment, dose of medication or insurance payment.
“Organization helps you fill your own tank with happiness and clarity, so you can continue to give,” said Hamblen Kelly. “Organization is critically important.”
Talk About Wishes and Concerns
As a caregiver, you may struggle with logistics and planning. The future can weigh on your mind—especially if your loved one has a life-limiting illness. Put your mind at ease by communicating freely with health care providers, supportive family members and your loved one. Be transparent and honest about what your loved one wants and needs.
“Don’t wait until there’s a crisis to talk about your loved one’s end-of-life requests,” said Hamblen Kelly. “I know a lot of families who have just said, ‘We’re going to do it—we’re going to have dinner and talk about these things.’ But in most situations, as the caregiver, you’ll need to initiate these important conversations to learn about your loved one’s health care wishes. Communicate openly and find out what’s important to them.”
Ask for Help
Many caregivers enjoy feeling needed—serving others provides fulfillment, happiness and a sense of purpose. However, it’s important to find a healthy balance handling the demands and responsibilities of caring for a family member. Seek out agencies, home health aides, hotlines, churches, friends and other family members who can relieve you when you need a break.
“Don’t forget—you are not alone on this journey,” said Hamblen Kelly. “It’s OK to ask for help when you need it.”