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What to Do if You Are a First-Time Family Caregiver

While some family caregivers gradually grow into their roles or are born into it, others can pinpoint the event that started their journey: Their father was hospitalized after a fall and needed more help at home, or their wife was diagnosed with an unexpected chronic illness.
 
If you recently became a family caregiver, you may feel challenged due to the changes in your relationship with your loved one. You may have to help your loved one bathe and dress or take medications. You may need to drive them to appointments or orchestrate their care from another state or country.
 
The following tips can help you oversee your loved one’s care and well-being, manage your own stress levels and better enjoy your time together.
 

Organize Legal, Personal and Financial Documents

Whether you use a computer or notebooks and folders, begin by organizing any paperwork of your loved one, such as discharge instructions. As a caregiver, you may need to ensure your loved one’s bills are paid, contact their insurance provider about coverage or attend to similar affairs. In order to do so, you will need access to all their important paperwork and, in some situations, legal authority to do business on their behalf.
 

Research Your Options

There may be times where you have to take your older loved one to the hospital or to doctor appointments, so it’s important to bring this up with your supervisor at work. Ask if your workplace offers flexible work hours, remote work, unpaid/paid leave of absence, etc. 
 
Moreover, through Employment Insurance, you could receive financial assistance of up to 55% of your earnings, to a maximum of $573 a week. These benefits will help you take time away from work to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured loved one or someone needing end-of-life care. As a caregiver, you don’t have to be related to or live with the person you care for or support, but they must consider you to be like family.
 

Prepare the Home

Depending on your loved one’s level of independence, they may continue to live in their own home, or they may need to move in with you or to a higher level of care such as an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. Regardless, you need to make adjustments to provide a safe place for them. Some minor household fixes might include removing trip hazards, such as rugs and snaking electrical cords, and increasing the brightness of bulbs or the amount of lighting.
 
In 2017-2018, 51% of all injury-related hospitalizations in Canada were of seniors 65+. The leading cause of injuries was falls. Pay special attention to the bathroom. According to Alison Novak, a scientist with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, who also researches fall prevention, “The bathroom is such a high-risk environment. It's one of the most dangerous areas of the home."
 

Enlist Help and Care for Yourself

Caregiving can be a challenge physically, mentally and emotionally. By taking on all the duties of a caregiver by yourself, you are increasing your chances of caregiver burnout, which can lead to a weaker immune system and poor sleep, among other side effects. This can make you a less effective caregiver for your loved one. You can lower your potential for burnout by reaching out to others for help:
 
  • Ask other family members (or your loved one’s friends) to pitch in. They may be able to join you in the hands-on caregiving duties, or in secondary ways, such as preparing a meal or driving them to doctor appointments. When asking for assistance, never feel embarrassed or decline someone’s offer out of courtesy. Create a list of tasks you can delegate or need an extra hand with. Conversely, you could ask a friend or family member to be a confidant, someone to talk to when you feel stressed.
  • Join a support group. Whether it’s online or in-person, meeting with others in similar situations gives you the opportunity to celebrate successes, offer consolation, share suggestions/guidance and form bonds. Many of the ComForCare Home Care franchises offer the Family Caregiver Skills and Support Group for those caring for loved ones with dementia. Call your local office to learn more. Additionally, you can find support groups by Googling “family caregiver support groups.”
  • Seek out community services. Information on federal, provincial and territorial government resources for caregivers is available on the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum web page, by calling 1 800 O-Canada or TTY 1-800-926-9105, or contact your provincial or territorial government. You may discover you and your loved one need more assistance — that’s OK! Home care services could be the best option.
 
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Carve out time every day to recharge: Take a warm bath, play online games or visit with friends. You must tend to your needs so you are physically, emotionally and mentally prepared to care for your loved one.
 

Educate Yourself on Caregiving

There are many duties of a family caregiver: personal care, medical assistance, money management, companionship, etc. As you learn more, varied tasks will become manageable.
 
You can start your caregiver curriculum by enrolling in a CPR and/or basic first aid class through the Canadian Red Cross, so you are prepared for medical emergencies should they happen.
 
If your loved one has a chronic illness or disability, learn as much as you can about it. Seek out reputable websites that are dedicated to the condition, such as Diabetes Canada.
 
If you are concerned about helping your loved one move around safely, including transferring from a car, check out the first five instructional videos by The Home Alone AllianceSM.
 
 
Peruse our blog for more information on caregiving, aging, dementia, home care and more.
 
Being a caregiver is one of the ultimate acts of loyalty, selflessness and love. While you may lack confidence in your new role, you have already shown character and resilience in becoming a family caregiver. Education, organization and a support network will elevate your effectiveness as a caregiver and the quality of care you provide.
 
Editor’s note: This article was originally published August 16, 2017. It has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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