For so many caregivers in the United States, this is a job they never thought they’d have — and one they aren’t always paid for. This year, an estimated 39.8 million adults have provided unpaid care to an adult in their lives, according to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Caring for an older adult in your life — whether it’s a parent, relative, friend or community member — is one of the most important things you can do for someone. While it’s natural to want to care for the people you love, it’s vital to recognize that it’s not easy.
We have some tips for unofficial caregivers to make their days a little easier.
Celebrate small wins
It can be easy to feel defeated or discouraged when you see someone you love struggle, but keep an eye on the good, too — however small that may be. No matter the situation, there can be good there, like cherishing the extra time you get to spend with your loved one, celebrating the pieces of independence they still have, like their ability to move around the house on their own, or remembering details from past conversations (especially if they’re facing cognitive decline).
It’s easier said than done, but focusing on those moments can help you feel less overwhelmed or scared by the ways your loved one is changing.
Don’t be afraid to speak up
Everyone needs an advocate, especially older adults. If you see something out the ordinary or have any type of concern, big or small, it’s worth bringing it up to their doctor or social worker. It may be nothing to worry about, or you may be catching a symptom early enough to get proper treatment. Especially as people get older, those early detections can make a big difference in care.
Don’t forget to care for yourself
For so many people, being a caregiver is yet another job on top of their full-time career and caring for their family. Keep in mind that as much as you want to help others, you can’t continue to give if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Take time to step away from the situation, take care of your mental and physical health and pursue the things that you love.
And don’t feel guilty about that — no one is meant to be a constant source of support for everyone else. You deserve to be supported too, and that starts with you.
Know when it’s time to ask for help
As your loved ones age, there can come a time when their care is too much for you to handle on your own — that’s normal, and that’s completely okay. Know that there are people who specialize in providing the type of care your loved one needs. Sometimes, things are better left to the experts who have the skill, background and experience to give your loved one the best care possible. Just because you ask for help doesn’t make you any less of a caregiver.