“H.E.L.P. I’m not qualified”
7 Steps to Take when You Become a Caregiver
I’m J Smiles, a comedian, Alzheimer’s and Dementia activist, and family caregiver. You may know me from Parenting Up!™ - where we’re a family of caregivers taking care of our family members together. Welcome to Snuggle Up™ Saturday.
Yawl, becoming a caregiver is terrible, terrifying even! Sometimes you might have a warning, your mom or dad might be in a slow decline and you’ve talked about exactly when you’ll need to take over their care. The window of notice can be long and laborious, short and scary, or immediate and insane. No matter what, I guarantee you that until that first day of caregiving happens, you don’t fully understand the magnitude of what being a full-time family caregiver really means.
Trust me, from the first sign that something was wrong with my mother, all the way through diagnosis, brain surgery, recovery, and physical therapy, I had several months to consider the concept that I would eventually become Zetty’s caregiver. Did that prepare me for day one or even weekend two of carrying full responsibility for her care? Absolutely not!
I couldn’t sleep that night, couldn’t eat, and couldn’t figure out what to do and when to do it or how to do it. I didn’t have the right supplies or know how to make a strong routine, or how to properly nourish myself in the process. That’s why I’m here to share my experiences with you, so you can be better prepared, or if you’re in the thick of it, you can take solace in some of these tips, tricks, and truths.
As a caregiver newbie (new caregiver), being overwhelmed comes with the job. Let’s talk about the steps you can take to get yourself on track to success. First, identify yourself as a caregiver, let yourself fill that role and understand what it means, and what you’ll be doing. Let it sink in yawl - marinate, you will do your psyche a huge favor.
Now, breathe. Look in the mirror, and say aloud “I will be okay.” If your LO doesn’t have a diagnosis, you should start here. It’s likely that you’ve already gotten one, but if you haven't, make sure that you push and push until you have all the answers if doctors are waving you off. You and your LO deserve to know the full extent of their diagnosis and what their needs will be. It can be dangerous to believe you are informed and you are actually partially in the dark.
Find out and teach yourself or have someone teach you what specific skills you’ll need to take care of your LO. You won’t need the same skills to take care of someone who’s had a stroke versus someone who has dementia or someone who has chronic heart disease.
Once you’ve identified the specific skills you’ll need to care for your LO, you’re more likely to be able to identify the specific supplies you’ll need for daily caregiving. Those are definitely important.
If you have the chance, talk to your LO about their wishes, what’s important to them, what independence they wish to maintain, and their healthcare directives. Folks, please, please, please, make sure to get any legal paperwork done that you need to while you have the chance. You do not want to be scrambling to get it done in a crisis or be searching for it in an emergency. Get your Advance Directives or Powers of Attorney complete and put in a safe place that you always know the location of and have easy access to. You’ll also want to discuss financials with your LO so that nothing is missed or overlooked, meaning what bills you might need to pay for them, the cost of their care, and how much you’ll be financially responsible for or if there are services that they’ll qualify for through insurance, et cetera.
Always keep your LO up to date on their care, even if they cannot comprehend everything. It’s still important to discuss things with them and to give them dignity and respect.
Getting into the real caregiving “Stuff,” you want to identify any resources or supports that you need otherwise or have access to. And folks, that means a crew. A friend group, a support group, or at least just one person that YOU can lean on. Remember that you are not alone in this, even though it might feel like it.
If you feel like you don’t have anyone to lean on, remember you have everyone in the community we’ve built here at Parenting UP™ to lean on, listen in with, comment, share, and join in the support of one another.