Being a family caregiver is an admirable and invaluable role that comes with a unique set of challenges, and they make a huge difference for the entire family. Should you assume this role, you’ll relieve stress for your relatives; the family member who needs care will benefit greatly from your services, and everyone in your family will feel better knowing that family member is in good hands.
For ages, family members have looked to each other first for care — it’s a pretty natural arrangement. There are, however, difficulties to this arrangement in modern America. The economic impact of family caregiving is such that 36 percent of people who care for an adult over the age of 50 are strained financially. Caregiving takes time, and there can be out-of-pocket expenses incurred. Regardless of the age of the family member, family caregivers spend an average of $6,954 out-of-pocket every year, which comes out to about 20 percent of their annual income. Many family caregivers receive no financial assistance for their efforts. Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN), who do a similar type of work, make $42,400 per year on average.
Beyond the financial difficulties of family caregiving, there are other practical considerations, as well as psychological considerations to mull over. Before you take on the caregiver role, make sure you’ve answered the following questions.
What Are Your Family Member’s Needs?
Start by assessing your family member’s needs. Do they require a high level of care, meaning they need an in-home assistant? Although it’s not required, in-home medical assistants often go through training and earn a certification so they’re prepared to handle emergencies. The duties performed by an in-home caregiver can be very similar to those performed by nurses, nurses’ assistants, and, in some cases, occupational or physical therapists.
The condition, age, sex, and life circumstances of your family member are all factors that affect level of care. If they have trouble bathing, going to the bathroom, and preparing meals — meaning they lack mobility — you must be prepared to handle these tasks. If they have trouble communicating, you must be prepared to communicate for them. If they have trouble taking their medication(s) regularly and making their doctor’s appointments, you must be able to help them remain medically compliant. If they’re using medical technology in the home, you must be prepared to help them use it correctly.
According to AARP’s report on caregiving in the US, 40 percent of caregivers are in high-burden situations. Of these high-burden caregivers, 92 percent provide over 21 hours of care per week. On average, they provide 51.6 hours of care a week. Additionally, family caregivers are the most likely to help with the instrumental activities surrounding daily living, as well as other key tasks, such as health monitoring, communicating with health professionals, and advocating for their family member with health care providers, services, and agencies.
Are You Qualified to Be a Caregiver?
Now that you’ve assessed the level of care your family member needs, you’re in a better place to understand how qualified you are to do the job. Evaluate your knowledge, skills, and abilities, particularly in the context of your family member’s circumstances. Depending on their level of mobility, you may need to be able to lift them in and out of the bathtub. It helps to know intervention procedures such as CPR for emergencies, and you’ll need to have a good idea as to what constitutes an emergency, because trips to the ER are costly.
According to AARP, about 60 percent of caregivers perform “medical/nursing tasks” — tasks a nurse or nurse’s assistant would usually perform. These tasks include injections, tube feedings, as well as catheter and colostomy care. They involve skill, and the more hours you provide care, the more likely you are to perform them. About 14 percent of caregivers who perform these tasks find them difficult, and caregivers who work with high-burden patients are the most likely to experience difficulty.
If you’re going to need to perform medical/nursing tasks and are unsure of whether you can, it’s wise to pursue a certified nursing assistant certification, which would teach you the skills and allow you to make a living doing this type of work in the future. It is not even necessary to go to school or earn a degree to achieve this level of certification; CNA classes are available online and can be completed remotely; there are also numerous training providers in most major metropolitan areas.
How Will You Support Yourself Financially?
Caregiving is a demanding job, and the financial hardships of family caregivers are well-documented. You may not be able to continue working elsewhere, and you may not be able to receive compensation for being a caregiver. It’s important to ensure that you can support yourself and any of your dependents financially before committing to caregiving.
Are you committed to providing care despite the cost? Here are some ways for you to ease the financial strain of family caregiving:
- Find out if your family member qualifies for Medicaid, which can help foot the bill for your services
- Find out if they qualify for, or already have, long-term care insurance, which can cover in-home caregiver expenses
- Find out if they qualify for veteran aide, which provides caregiver support and financing
Seek help from the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA)
- Talk to your family about paying for your services and ask your employer if they provide paid leave
- Include your family member as a dependent on your taxes and get a tax break. Just make sure they meet the dependent qualifications
You do have to consider your own financial needs, which may go beyond what you can receive in assistance. Sit down and calculate your budget to find out whether you can afford the average out-of-pocket expense, which is nearly $7,000.
Can You Emotionally and Mentally Handle Caregiving?
Even if you’re happy to provide care for your loved one, caregiving is taxing for multiple reasons. You’re emotionally invested in this person, but you’re assuming a different, more clinical role. If your family member’s condition is severe, it’s extremely difficult to see them decline in health, get worse, or even pass away. As this is happening, you are expected to assume two roles at once: that of the caregiver and that of the emotionally attached family member. This entails a great deal of emotional labor.
You may experience caregiver burnout, which is the result of not only role confusion, but other factors such as physical overexertion. If you expect your loved one to get better, but their health declines, you suffer psychologically alongside them. You can burn out due to a lack of resources and control, as well as unrealistic demands from family and other concerned parties.
Be prepared to ask for help, which can come in the form of peer support groups, counseling, financial assistance, and family intervention. Accept the fact that you may need to turn over your duties to someone else if the burden of care becomes too heavy.
How Will Your Family Members Respond?
Will your other family members feel comfortable with you being a caregiver for your loved one? You’ll need to consult with your family before taking this on. People may become sensitive to the type, quality, and amount of care their loved one receives, and if you are responsible for providing that care, it could cause tensions or conflict with other family members, such as siblings or spouses. Furthermore, time you spend caregiving will take away from your time with other family members and put additional strain on your relationships.
Do You Have a Support Network?
Due to the financial and psychological strain of family caregiving, it’s a great idea to have a support network of your own in place. This may include other family members who have expressed their desire to help, friends, support groups, and mental health professionals.
When it comes to friends and family, be sure to discuss expectations. Each person must know they are indeed a member of your support network; ask them if they feel comfortable with helping you out, and be sure to specify what type of help you might need as well as what type of help they can give.
Don’t ask for help that will strain the relationship — a friend may feel uncomfortable caring for your loved one when you need a break. Ask close family members if they can act as your surrogate when you need one. At the very least, find out who you can come to in times of emergency, when you need to talk, or when you are overwhelmed and need some additional help with tasks.
You can find support groups on platforms like Meetup.com and Facebook. If you need an even higher level of support and are experiencing burnout, speak with a counselor. This is especially important if you’re reaching a breaking point and you feel there are no other options — the truth is there’s always another option; sometimes it just takes an outside perspective to figure out what it is.