If your family has entered a transition period and a loved one is in need of at-home care, you’re likely considering different care options. Perhaps you’ve landed on the possibility of becoming a family caregiver yourself.
If so, you’d be in good company. According to current data from the National Alliance for Caregiving, one in every five Americans is now an at-home caregiver for an adult family member with health or functional needs.
Becoming a caregiver for a family member may provide your loved one with the ability to stay independent and living in their own home. Before entering a family caregiving arrangement, we’ll break down everything involved with becoming a caregiver for a family member.
What Does a Caregiver Do?
Oftentimes when aging parents can't live alone or need advanced personal care for themselves, family members may step in as family caregivers. Caregivers provide physical, psychological, and emotional support to those who need it. This could be an elderly parent or a loved one is sick or injured.
Caregivers can be paid or unpaid. Unpaid caregivers are typically unpaid family members who are providing the care services. Paid caregivers are either medical caregivers, nurses, or doctors, all of which require certification and training.
As an unpaid caregiver, your role is to support your loved one in daily activities, which may differ depending on their abilities. A typical day as a family caregiver could entail:
- Home upkeep and assisted living tasks: laundry, errands, cooking, and cleaning
- Reminders to take medication
- Advocating for your loved one at the doctor’s office
- Handling finances
- Driving your loved one to appointments
- Helping care recipient with daily living and personal care tasks such as bathing and dressing
- Helping care recipient with completion of end-of-life checklists
There is no degree or training required to become an informal caregiver for a family member, although you may wish to enroll in courses for additional support or knowledge as you navigate this new phase.
What to Consider Before Becoming a Caregiver
Becoming a primary caregiver for a loved one is often a rewarding decision, but one to consider carefully. The role will likely involve a large time investment, and there are many aspects you may haven’t previously considered.
Before committing to the role, review your and your loved one’s:
- Finances – There are many money matters to address before you begin. Are you able to become a full-time caregiver or will you be working part-time in addition to caregiving? Will your loved one be reimbursing you for the items you buy on their behalf? According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 Report, 1 in 5 caregivers report high financial strain due to their new role. Have a frank conversation with your loved one about their (and your) finances. Consider methods of easing financial discomfort, like cashing out on home equity, to fund caregiving.
- Health – Talk to your loved one’s doctor to learn more about their current health and about any special care you may be required to provide. You may wish to enroll in CPR or First Aid courses, or any courses specifically related to your loved one’s health needs. And don’t forget to consider your own health, as well. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 27% of caregivers have reported that their role has impacted their own health.
- Training – Although no training is required to become a caregiver for a family member, you may wish to enroll in a course to increase your confidence. If you will be needing to help your loved one in and out of chairs or the bath, there are specialists and physical therapists who will teach you how to do so safely. There are both online and in-person courses that will teach you what to expect and arm you with the tools to effectively give care.
- Paperwork – Many of your responsibilities as a caregiver may be assisting your loved one with paperwork. One of the first aspects of caregiving may be completing paperwork that includes healthcare directives and end-of-life documents. Check with local organizations to learn more about regulations in your area.
- Communication – Before agreeing to the role, communicate with your entire family about everyone’s commitments and expectations. Some family members may expect regular updates; your loved one may still wish to maintain complete autonomy in certain aspects. Entering the role with clear communication sets the stage for easier chats down the line.
- Mental toll – A reversal of caregiving roles can be challenging for everyone involved. Caregiver role strain can take a toll on mental health and well-being. There is no shame in recognizing the toll it may take on your and your loved one’s mental health and developing a plan for managing it. Ensure that supports are in place for everybody’s mental health, particularly during the early part of the transition period or if you begin to experience caregiver burnout.
How to Become a Caregiver For a Family Member?
When you’re ready to become a caregiver for a family member, there are many organizations that will be able to help you navigate the transition. Although you don’t need any official paperwork to begin (the only requirement is that your family member must be willing to accept your care), you may be looking for a guide or support network as you begin.
Organizations that may be able to help you navigate the rules in your area include:
- Family Caregiving Alliance – This organization can help you access resources like government health and disability programs, legal, in-home and out-of-home care, and more, through public and nonprofit programs in your state.
- The Administration on Aging (AAA) – This public service from the U.S. Administration on Aging may be able to help with caregiving costs. Contact your local AAA agency to learn more about their services.
- Veteran Directed Care Program – If your loved one is a veteran, they may be eligible for Aid & Attendance Care or a managed budget for at-home care. For assistance navigating the benefits your loved one may be eligible for, contact your local Veterans Affairs office or local veterans service organization.
- Long-term care insurance – Your loved one may have taken out care insurance that may be able to compensate you for your time. For clarification about your loved one’s policy, contact the agent or insurance company and ask about the caregiver payment benefit.
- Attorneys – There are lawyers who specialize in caregiving situations. They will be able to advocate for older adults and help them navigate laws, rules, and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels.
Other Tips for Your Caregiving Journey
Caregiving can enact a physical, mental, and emotional toll—as you and your loved one make the transition to in-home caregiving, stay alert for warning signs. Often, caregivers may find themselves so exhausted from their role that they don’t have time to take care of themselves. However, there are family caregiver support groups and other caregiver resources that can aid in stress and strain caused by the role.
In order to fight caregiver burnout and be an effective long-term caregiver, bear in mind a few tips:
- Set healthy boundaries – Enacting clear boundaries at the start of your role (such as when you are available and what your role will be) will set everyone on the same page and help you avoid difficult conversations later down the road. Conversations about boundaries also include financial boundaries. Openly communicate what you are able to give and consider methods that may ease your and your loved one’s financial stress.
- Ask for help sooner rather than later – While it’s important to utilize the resources that are at your disposal as a caregiver, including organizations that offer assistance, help may be closer than you think. Other family members may want to assist with the workload but may be unsure how to be of service. If you become overwhelmed, calling for additional support can be a lifesaver. And family members may feel grateful to have been involved in caregiving.
- Take care of yourself – Your mental, physical, and emotional health will determine not just how you feel, but the quality of care that you’re able to provide. Caring for yourself helps improve your ability to support your loved one. Make sure you’re setting aside enough time to sleep and exercise. You can seek additional emotional support through a therapist or a community support group for caregivers.
Make Life at Home Easier For Your Loved One
When you’ve made the decision to become a caregiver for a family member, you’re taking on a responsibility that’s time- and resource-intensive. Should financial strain be the main cause of struggle, you can tap into your loved one’s home equity to support.
Don’t be so quick to sell your parent’s house before they pass. With Truehold, our Sale-Leaseback solution can help your loved one stay in their homes safely and affordably, while easing the stress of maintaining a home. Not only is your loved one able to cash in on their home equity, we can help ease the burden of home maintenance—from issues like a leaky roof to an overgrown lawn and more.
After your loved one sells their home to Truehold, they’re able to stay for as long as they like—be that a few months to twenty more years—paying only monthly rent and utilities, which are always set at a fair market price.
We’re dedicated to supporting caregivers and their loved ones through difficult transition periods. Contact our Truehold advisors today to see if we can identify a positive solution that can help make this transition easier for everyone involved.
1. National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregiving in the U.S. 2020. https://www.caregiving.org/research/caregiving-in-the-us/caregiving-in-the-us-2020/
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