Caring For a Family Member – Things You Should Know

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More and more people are choosing to become an caregiver at home to a loved one. This could be an elderly parent or loved one, someone with a chronic illness, or even a child who is struggling with a condition. Whatever your circumstances, the fact remains that giving care to a family member is tough, yet rewarding at the same time. 

It’s not always appropriate to ask for outside help and it’s not always the wish of the person or the family member either. In this case, it’s important to opt for the right answer, and to explore your options. 

Why do People Choose to Care For Family Members?

That might sound like a ridiculous question to ask, but people often choose to care for family members at home rather than to seek out residential care, such as a residential care home for the elderly. Family members also sometimes don’t want carers to enter the home, or it could be that the family member simply doesn’t want someone they don’t know coming in to look after them every day and prefer someone they know and trust well. 

Whether you choose to care for your loved one your self or you don’t, it’s a personal decision that has to be made between you and your loved one. It’s important that you take their wishes into firm account when making a decision, as they’re the ones this will affect the most. However, you should also be open and honest about your own part to play.

Do you realistically have the time? Do you have other responsibilities that may cause a clash of interests, e.g. a young family or a very busy career? Do you think you can handle the emotional strain of looking after a loved one at home, knowing that you’re going to see them at their worst at times? Do you think this will impact on the relationship you have in a negative or positive way?

We can’t answer these questions for you, because every single person is individual and different. You know your loved one far better than we do, and you know yourself too. It has to be a decision that suits the two of you and isn’t forced upon the other one by circumstance. This is a responsibility and one which needs to be taken seriously and approved by the two sides. 

Vital Points to Remember

Research is Key 

When choosing to care for a family member you need to learn as much as you can about that person’s condition or illness. By arming yourself with as much information as possible you’ll be able to make a solid and sensible decision about whether you’re actually able to handle the effects of this particular condition or illness. You’ll also feel far less able and more competent because of the information you’ve learnt. 

Look For Support 

There are many organisations and support networks which are set up to help caregivers like yourself and this can give you a vital outlet when things get tough. This is also a key place to ask for help and advice, which you can use to great effect at home.

Of course, the support of others around you also allows for someone else to understand what you’re going through. Much of the time the focus is on your family member, and rightly so in many ways, but as the caregiver, you need an outlet too. This is a very emotionally tough and sometimes distressing endeavour and you need someone you can talk to who understands the process. 

Always Listen to Your Gut Feelings

Whilst you should always listen to the advice of doctors, you know your loved one very well. If something doesn’t seem right to you, don’t hang around and wait, get things checked out. You might be overreacting but that’s fine, because it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

However, over time and as you become more familiar with your loved one’s condition and how their symptoms ebb and flow, you’ll become more confident and you’ll make stronger judgements as a result of what you know. 

Remember That Your Loved One Needs Their Independence 

It can be very easy to simply try and do everything for the person that you love and whom you see struggling, but that’s not the best way to help them. They need to retain their independence as much as possible, as this will allow them to remain with a sense of dignity and hope. If you simply do everything for them, they will begin to feel like they’re useless and can’t do anything for themselves. 

Whilst you should tend to your loved one’s needs, encourage them to do certain tasks for themselves, within their own capabilities. You’ll come to be more familiar with these as you become more confident in your caregiving abilities. 

Understand That It’s Normal to Struggle

At times, you’re going to struggle and this is something you need to accept and not see as a failing. You haven’t failed, you’re human and what you are doing is difficult. With that in mind, you need to understand that you have boundaries and there may be times when you need to seek outside help for a time. 

At the start, it’s vital that you’re clear and honest about how much time you can give to your loved one and don’t be tempted to just say you can do whatever or everything, simply because you don’t want to let them down. It’s better to have everything mapped out realistically at the start. You should also see if you can seek out help from other family members who may be able to share the care or help you out when you need a little time for yourself. 

How to Make Family Caregiving a Little Easier on You 

Understanding the challenges of caring for a family member is vital. You can’t be expected to do everything and there may be situations where you are a little out of your depth. Understanding your loved one’s condition is vital, but you also need to realise that there are going to be times when you might need a time out. 

To make caregiving that little bit easier on you, understand the following points. 

  • Remember to look for a balance between time for yourself and caring for your family member. You cannot care for them if you’re not caring for yourself adequately too. 
  • Be mindful of how you’re feeling and know when you need to take a break. Caring can be very difficult psychologically so be aware of your mental health and how you’re feeling.
  • Know your boundaries and do not cross them. You’re going to struggle with life occasionally and the best way to handle that is to have boundaries which allow you to have a little time away when you need it. This is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s basic self-care. 
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Perhaps you’re not sure how to do something, you’re not sure about something, or you’re simply struggling. There is a lot of help out there for caregivers, you simply need to ask for it. 

The Wonder of Family Caregiving 

Despite the fact that caring for a family member isn’t easy, it is of course a very rewarding thing to do. Embracing the aspects of this which are firmly positive is a great start and will allow you to overcome the difficult days. 

However, family caregiving isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t a possibility for everyone either. If this is your situation, again, it’s nothing to feel bad or ashamed about. There are many different options out there for caregiving and it’s simply a case of finding the best fit for your loved one.

This doesn’t always have to mean going into residential care as there are other options, such as a live in carer, or a caregiver who visits your loved one’s home on a set number of days or hours per week. This gives you the peace of mind that you’ve loved one is cared for and that their specific needs are met, but you are also able to do the things you need to do and meet your responsibilities. 

This means that you can go and visit your loved one whenever possible and you can concentrate on building positive memories as a result. 

There’s no denying that family caregiving is hard and it can sometimes mean that although you’re spending close time together you’re not building up the same types of memories. For some people however, this close bond is better than anything else, for both sides. It’s a really personal choice and something which you have to decide with your family member. However, if your family member wants you to be a family caregiver but you simply can’t or even don’t feel that you want to go down this route, you have to say so and you need to be honest. 

This doesn’t mean you don’t love your family member, it simply means that you are prioritising your loved one’s care in the hands who perhaps can meet their needs a little better.