As a family caregiver, you may be responsible for many different aspects of your loved one’s care. Doctor appointments, medication management, personal care, finances, and making sure your loved one is eating well and staying healthy. Whew- it is a lot!
Caring for a family member is rewarding but it can also be very stressful. Without proper support, caregivers have a high chance of experiencing challenges and emotional distress.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, there were around 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the US in 2020. The demand for the role has risen over the years but family caregivers are in worse health than five years ago.
What Is a Family Caregiver?
A family caregiver is anyone who provides medical or non-medical assistance and support to a relative, spouse, or close friend. These individuals may or may not be living with the care recipient. They are often unpaid and may be raising their own family and working while also caring for a loved one.
What Do Family Caregivers Do?
The type of assistance provided by family caregivers is dependent on the needs of their loved ones. These can range from simple daily tasks to medically related procedures. Common duties include medication management, meal preparation, house cleaning, and helping with activities of daily living (ADLs).
For caregivers who support people with dementia, these duties can be even more demanding.
Can Family Caregivers Get Paid?
Yes, family caregivers can get paid. Several programs extend financial assistance to family caregivers. This includes Medicaid, Veterans Aid, and some insurance benefits. Eligibility requirements will differ depending on the program.
For example, each state administers its own Medicaid program and some have family caregiving benefits. Disease-specific organizations like CancerCare offer grants to cancer patients and their caregivers.
Is There Government Assistance for Unpaid Family Caregivers?
Some Medicaid programs provide assistance to those with low incomes. Medicaid Self-Directed Services, a specific program that can compensate family caregivers is available in certain states. The idea behind this program is that Medicaid clients are able to oversee how their benefits are dispersed.
In regards to caregiving, this means Medicaid recipients are able to hire, train, and oversee the individuals who provide their caregiving services. The best way to find out about Medicaid benefits offered in your state is to inquire with your local Area Agency on Aging.
Creating a Care Plan
A care plan is a written or digital document that carefully details the health conditions and support needed by the person being cared for. The care plan outlines who is responsible for each task and defines clear roles of the care team.
Creating a clear family care plan helps establish structure and duties in the relationship between the caregiver and the care recipient.
The care plan should include the necessary information including:
- Health conditions
- Care recipient’s needs, requests, and preferences
- Emergency contacts
- Healthcare providers
- Other caregiver resources
Who Is Part of the Care Team?
The purpose of a designated care team is to help the primary caregiver and share some of their responsibilities. Having a group of trusted individuals who support the family caregiver can reduce the amount of stress and assure they are not alone. Sometimes, this may include hiring a private caregiver to give the family caregiver some respite.
When developing a care team, the role of each family member should be made clear. Evaluate individual strengths and identify which roles will be best assigned to each person. For example, someone with an authoritative voice may be best fitted to be the communicator of the family, while the primary caregiver makes critical decisions.
Relatives who have stable incomes can contribute to expenses. Younger family members can help with simple tasks and errands. Specify each person’s duties in your care plan so everyone can check their tasks, schedules, and other important information.
Make sure to have regular family meetings to keep everyone on the same page. Aside from family members, other close friends, neighbors, church members, physicians, and counselors can also be added as secondary members of your care team.
There are some great tools to help organize the care team, especially when it comes to communication.
Here are a few family caregiving tools we found:
- WellBe: A virtual health assistant to help families stay on track
- Care Angel: Helps facilitate communication between family, caregiver, and aging loved ones
- LenaHealth: Virtual health assistant that can handle tasks, provide guidance and virtual support
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout happens when an individual has reached a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. When symptoms of burnout appear, it is crucial to step back and rest, so you can recuperate. To prevent caregiver burnout, it is best to have regular breaks from your duties, ask for help, and take care of your own needs in order to provide for those of your loved ones.
6 Tips To Take Care of Yourself
As caregivers spend their time focused on supporting their loved ones, they often neglect their own needs. It is important to find a healthy work-life balance to ensure that you can take care of yourself too.
If you are among the millions who provide care for a family member, here are six tips to help you:
Family caregiving is demanding but rewarding. You may be taking care of an elderly family member in your home or paying for services to help them live at home. No matter what type of caregiving you are doing, having the right resources can make it easier and less stressful.
Make sure to have to explore the following supports and resources.
- Adequate support from other family members, close friends, and senior care professionals
- A family care plan that delegates specific duties to other people on the care team
- Support groups, whether in-person or online to help you navigate the day-to-day stresses of being a caregiver
- Explore assistance programs in your state that pay family caregivers
- Know the signs of caregiver burnout and don’t hesitate to ask for help when needed.
- Most importantly, if you are a family member caring for another, take care of yourself!
Family Caregiver Frequently Asked Questions:
Some of the responsibilities of the family caregiver include daily errands, assessing health conditions, administering medication, grooming, meal preparation, and more. The specific duties of a family caregiver will depend on the cognition and health of the person they are caring for.
Yes, family caregivers can apply to certain state programs and benefit organizations for financial assistance. Be prepared to present documents that prove your eligibility.
Some of the most common signs of caregiver stress are feeling overwhelmed, physical and/or mental exhaustion, and being irritable.
Caregivers need support and assistance from the people around them. Having a strong support group, feeling validated for their work, and receiving proper compensation and time off will ensure that a caregiver can continue in their role.
Amie Clark, BSW
Aging Advocate and Senior Care Expert
Amie has worked with older adults and their families for the past twenty-plus years of her career. Her senior care knowledge is based on her experience as a social worker, family caregiver, and senior care consultant. Learn more about Amie here.