How to Step into the Role of a Caregiver

Key Points

The truth is, none of us grow up planning to take care of our elderly family members. But as our loved ones ease into their golden years, ensuring they have the best care possible becomes a top priority—and for many people with aging family members, that means stepping into a caregiver role themselves. 

It’s not a job to take lightly. Our loved ones deserve the best care we can give them, and providing them the support needed to age with dignity can be a monumental task for anyone. For those juggling other jobs or household responsibilities, even the idea of caring for a senior can feel overwhelming. After all, in today’s hectic world, it can often feel tough just to take care of ourselves.

However, with the right tools and support, it’s possible to navigate this new role and give your loved ones the quality care they deserve—all while maintaining your own mental health and well-being.

What Does a Caregiver Actually Do?

Think of all the little things you do every day without much thought: brushing your teeth, getting dressed, making meals. For seniors, these tasks might become tricky. As a caregiver, you’ll step in to help with these daily activities, ensuring your family member is comfortable and well-taken care of. 

Of course, being a caregiver means handling the bigger stuff, too. You might help with medication management, household chores, and making sure your loved one has the accommodations they need to get around safely. 

For your loved one, needing so much help can make them feel embarrassed, ashamed, and powerless, so one big part of a caregiver's job is to help their loved one age with dignity and respect. So even if you’re feeling out of your element, remember that there’s no one else your loved one would rather have by their side.

How Do I Prepare?

It usually won’t feel like it, but in a lot of ways caregiving is a job like any other, and one way to best understand your new responsibilities is to write yourself a job description. 

Aging affects everyone differently, and there’s no caregiving roadmap that works for everyone, so it’s important to sit down with your loved one and discuss the areas of life they need help with most. Whether your loved one needs help around the house with cooking and cleaning or help with hygiene tasks like bathing or using the restroom, knowing where you’ll be needed most can ensure you’ll be prepared to give the best care possible. 

If your loved one has a medical diagnosis, it’s a good idea to meet with their doctor to discuss their care plan, their specific medical needs, and any skills you may need to administer their medications. 

If this all feels overwhelming, that’s totally normal. Just remember that this new situation can feel equally as jarring and unfamiliar for the loved one you’re caring for. You’re in this together, and practicing open communication will reduce frustration for everyone involved. 

An Advocate Can Help

If this all feels like a bit too much, a senior healthcare advocate can make sure you’re ready for any challenge that might lie ahead. They can take care of the small stuff, so you can spend more quality time with your loved one and less time feeling stressed and overwhelmed. 

An advocate can schedule doctor’s appointments, help arrange transportation, put you in touch with local support groups, and much more. And best of all, they can often do it at no cost to you.

Keeping Your Sanity

For many, stepping into a caregiving role is an act of love in itself, but it can still drain your patience. No matter how much love and respect you have for an elder family member, caregiving can build frustration, resentment, and guilt. Having these kinds of feelings is totally normal, and doesn’t make you a bad person—it just makes you someone who cares.

Practice Self-Care

Set aside time every day for dedicated self-care if you can manage it. When you dedicate so much of your time and energy to caring for a loved one, it’s easy to let your own care fall by the wayside. It’s obviously unrealistic to take a spa day whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, but even simple things can help—go for a walk, read a book, or meditate. 

Remember, small acts of self-care can make a big difference, but only if you make the time to do them.  

Find a Place to Vent

If you’ve got friends or other family members willing to listen, be sure to use them! Let your loved ones know in advance you’ll be coming to them to vent when you’re feeling frustrated. Sometimes just getting everything out can relieve a lot of stress.  

If letting out your frustrations in person isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to seek out online resources like healthcare advocates or private support groups. An experienced advocate will know exactly what you’re going through, and can offer helpful guidance or just a kind and sympathetic ear. 

Get Professional Support

While not an option for everyone, hiring an outside professional from time to time can help keep long-term resentment at bay. Several caregivers hire certified nursing assistants or geriatric aides to step in for them when they just need to get out of the house for a while.

Bringing in a little outside help can also be great for your loved one. Believe it or not, they might need a break from you, too, and it can be refreshing to see another caring face around the house.

Taking it One Day at a Time

Everyone’s caregiving journey is unique, so most of all, you should be ready to take it one day at a time. No matter how much prep work you do, there will always be challenges you didn’t see coming. Do your best to stay flexible, and remember that you and your loved one are in this together, so communicate as much as you can.

Caregiving can be a hard and sometimes thankless job, but stepping up when your family needs you most is often the best way to ensure your loved one gets the kind of quality care they need. 

Remember that you’re not alone! There are tons of great resources available, both online and locally, to make this transition as easy as possible and support you every step of the way.

Sara Sargent
Co-Founder & CPO at Solace

Sara has led creative, brand, marketing and product teams for some of the fastest-growing startups in the U.S. She has written for multiple billionaires, international NBA stars and Nobel Prize winners and is brought to you mostly by multiple shots of espresso, administered daily.

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