Caregiving Basics

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed:

What is caregiving?

A caregiver is a person who takes care of another person. Caregivers manage the physical, emotional, spiritual, and practical needs of another person, all while managing their own life, needs, family, and career.

Caregiving can be exhausting, frustrating, anxiety-provoking, stressful, and nerve-wracking. It can test your body, your spirit, your emotions, and your patience. It may cause you financial challenges. The needs of your loved ones may outweigh your capacity as a caregiver and often trump your own needs. You may be tested, pushed, exhausted, scared, and isolated.

Despite all this, caregiving is often a rewarding, bonding, cherished, and important experience between loved ones. Caregiving gives you the opportunity to connect, love, show affection, take care of, remember, and be compassionate and empathetic towards another person you love.

The Benefits of Caregiving

Caregiving can be a rewarding, rich, and meaningful experience. It gives us a chance to love, support, bond, share, and be together. Remember that you are giving back by providing care. You know that your loved one is getting the best possible treatment and support because you are providing it. The caregiving relationship is a gift to each other.

Who provides care?

Caregivers are typically family members, like a spouse or child. Family caregivers can also be cousins, nieces, uncles, grandparents, or close friend. Depending on the needs of your loved one, caregiving may take more than one person - or a caregiving team. Other caregiving team members may be, professionals (from a home care agency), community supports (church members, neighbors), and friends.

Caregivers have many roles and responsibilities. The caregiver should be a good communicator. It’s helpful to be able to multitask. You may be juggling the physical, emotional, and practical needs of the person you are caring for while continuing to live your own life. You will often play the role of advocate - speaking up for your loved one when they cannot. Caregiving requires a great deal of commitment, flexibility, respect, and compassion. You may get back gratitude, love, and respect from your loved one. 

There is also a role for professional assistance in caregiving through skilled nursing agencies. These agencies provide: 

  • Nursing services.
  • Physical/occupational/speech therapy.
  • IV therapy.
  • Social work support. 
  • Home health aide services. 

Professional agencies help with medical support, medication management, education, and making connections to other potential sources of support. Social workers can help identify agencies in your area that can provide professional caregiving services.

What care do caregivers provide?

The tasks of caregiving are centered around your individual needs. Every caregiver is capable of and comfortable with different tasks, which is why having more than one caregiver is helpful. It is important for the primary caregiver to be able to delegate tasks to others when they need help. One person cannot do it all! Some common tasks include:

  • Physical needs: bathing, dressing, feeding, turning, repositioning.
  • Emotional needs: companionship and support.
  • Practical needs: transportation to appointments, food shopping, bill paying, and accompanying the patient to medical appointments.

Do I have to do this?

Caregiving isn't for everyone. It is OK to say "no." It is better to say "I can't do this" than to try to do it and potentially put yourself or your loved one at risk. It is important to remember that you may want to be your loved one's daughter more than you want to be their nurse.

This is where the "village" concept of caregiving applies: it takes a village to provide adequate physical, emotional, and practical care for another person. Give some caregiving tasks and dates to other family members. Sit down as a group and talk about what needs to be done.  . Discuss the plan with the following things in mind:

  • What type of care is needed?
  • How often is help needed?
  • Is 24-hour supervision/companionship needed?
  • What can we do?
  • What can’t we do?
  • What might I be able to do with more support or teaching?
  • How can we fill in gaps in our ability to provide care?
  • If we can't provide this type of care, what are other options; including private duty (paid) care or short/long-term care placement?

Self-care: The Key to Maintaining the Caregiving Relationship

It is important for caregivers to take care of themselves. Caregivers who ignore their own needs can be at a higher risk for caregiver burnout as well as physical and mental health problems. It is ok to ask for help. Other ways to care for yourself are

  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Eating regular meals
  • Maintaining relationships and activities with other family members and your friends.
  • Exercising.
  • Doing things you enjoy (hobbies, meals out, traveling).
  • Getting therapy to talk about your experiences as a caregiver.
  • Joining a caregiver support group.
  • Arranging for respite care for a few days so you can take a more extended break.

Caregiving can be a rich, rewarding experience that can also be stressful. Try to maintain a balance between your own needs and the needs of others. This helps keep you going.

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