Most people take care of others throughout their lives, in ways big and small, on occasion or habitually. But the decision to look for a regular caregiver, or to become a caregiver for another adult on an ongoing basis, is a big deal.
Sometimes that decision follows a catastrophic event - a new diagnosis, or an accident . Sometimes we reach out to ask for help.
With older adults. more often it grows slowly, with the increasing realization that "it's time". There are some ways to check to see if someone needs help, and some "tells" or red flags that indicate it's time to step in to assist our elders, as this article explains:
However it happens, here's some useful advice and things to think about, as you ponder being a caregiver for a family member, friend or loved one:
Question: What does a caregiver (or care partner) do?
Short answer: whatever is needed.
It could be help with activities of daily living (ADLs) like: getting in and out of beds or chairs; getting dressed; getting to and from the toilet; bathing or showering; eating; dealing with incontinence. (Those are the most common ADLs that caregivers help with, according to the AARP's 2020 report.) Or they could help with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) like: transportation; grocery (or other) shopping; housework; preparing meals; managing finances; giving medicines, pills, or injections; arranging outside services.
Many parts of a caregiver's job can go un-remarked, which is why the Atlas of Caregiving project documents the wide range of activities caregivers engage in. The Atlas' list of various aspects of caregiving may help you think about (and arrange for) care now, and anticipate future needs. While everyone's experience is different, it may be also useful to read about them, to see what you have in common.
Caregiving isn't always "from now until the end". It can be short-term, when recovering from an injury or illness:
When thinking about what caregivers do, we tend to focus on health concerns and activities of daily living. But many people also need help with managing their finances - and that could be a major part of a caregiver's duties.
Caregiving is universal, as these videos in several languages, made for the Minneapolis Twin Cities region, explain.
The Family Caregiver Alliance has many videos on key caregiver skills (managing medications, nutrition, home safety, hygiene, transfer skills, self-care) organized into playlists.
Here's one video from that series, about keeping track of medications:
Checklists, tip sheets, and How-Tos are also invaluable. Besides these links, you might want to look at the checklists included in the other tabs for this guide.
Caregiving has its own jargon, with sometimes-confusing terminology. AARP's glossary gives useful definitions:
Be sure to discuss information gathered from these resources with your health care providers to see if it is relevant to your individual situation. Health and medical information accessed through these websites is not intended to substitute for or to replace the advice or instruction of a health care professional.
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