You may be wondering if you are a caregiver, and if this website is intended for you. Here’s what you can ask yourself:
- Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of a special older person?
- Have you been helping an aging relative or friend with health and life tasks, even just a little bit? (Like by looking up health information online, for instance.)
If so, I consider you a caregiver, and the information here is written for you.
Being referred to as a caregiver often comes as a surprise to people. To begin with, many people think of caregivers as the professionals who provide healthcare, and other types of care.
This is not wrong, per se, but I don’t like using the term “caregiver” to refer to professionals. If we call doctors and nurses “caregivers,” then I feel it becomes quite hard to describe the people who provide more hands-on care, and also often really, deeply care about the older person receiving the care.
We do, after all, have other terms available for doctors and nurses. These include “clinician,” “healthcare provider,” or “healthcare professional.”
So on this website, I use the following terms:
- Caregiver: A person involved somehow in the caring for, or otherwise assisting, an older person with health and life tasks. Usually I’m referring to someone who has a longstanding personal relationship to the older person, hence these are family members or a friend.
- Family caregiver: Same as above, but sounds warmer and fuzzier, so I like this term. However, many people who behave similarly to family caregivers are not actual family; they may be close friends instead. I’ve even seen neighbors take on amazing amounts of caregiving for an older person. Unpaid caregivers are also sometimes referred to as “informal caregivers,” but this term gives short shrift to the amount of care many family caregivers are providing.
- Paid caregiver: This means someone who is paid to provide help and care. Usually I’m thinking of paid in-home care, such as a home aide. Of note, many paid caregivers develop close relationships with the older person they care for.
- Care manager: Many older adults have a care manager involved. Usually this is a paid professional, who oversees and organizes services.
Why caregivers matter in geriatrics
Caregivers like you really matter in geriatrics, because you often become involved in much of the “self-healthcare” duties that we expect individual patients to handle. These include tasks such as:
- Noticing a bothersome or worrisome symptom, and bringing it to medical attention;
- Monitoring and managing chronic illnesses;
- Obtaining and taking medications;
- Learning about a health condition, and researching different options for management;
- Implementing non-drug approaches to health problems, such as exercise, diet changes, or physical therapy;
- Getting to medical appointments;
- Making sure all important questions are addressed during a doctor’s visit, and keeping track of the next steps;
- Making medical decisions, when a person is too ill or impaired to do so.
At a minimum, these tasks take some time and mental energy. And often, they become a serious and weighty responsibility.
Are you feeling stressed by caregiving?
Helping another person is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s often taxing and emotionally draining.
If you’ve been feeling weighed down by your caregiving worries or responsibilities, be sure to look for support and resources.
Although the health information here can help you learn to get better healthcare, and minimize harmful healthcare, you’ll also want to find resources to help with the many other challenges caregivers often face.
Resources that can help include:
- Peer-to-peer caregiver communities. Connecting with other caregivers is great for emotional support, and for practical advice on managing relationship challenges. Many caregivers can also offer useful tips related to managing hands-on care. Try the forum at a major caregiving website, or look for a support group locally.
- Eldercare guides. These exist for a variety of topics, including guides to help you navigate questions related to finances, housing, and legal concerns. You can find them in print, or you can look for a website providing advice on these topics.
- Your local Area Agency on Aging. Most municipalities are served by a local Area Agency on Aging, which helps provide services to seniors and caregivers. You can look for one near you at www.eldercare.gov.
- Geriatric care managers. Geriatric care managers are professionals trained to help families caring for older adults. They can help families navigate a wide variety of life challenges.
- Counseling and therapy. It’s not uncommon for family caregivers to experience insomnia, stress, depression, and anxiety. If you think this might be affecting you, consider asking your own healthcare providers for professional help. Although medication can help, I generally recommend caregivers ask for therapy and counseling first. This is safer and often leads to more lasting benefits.