The Reluctant Caregiver – Ten Survival Tips

Are you a reluctant caregiver?

Care Happens. As I buckled my seatbelt before driving my family member to the Urgent Care Clinic, I realized I was back in the saddle of caregiving. After six years of being the primary caregiver for my mother which entailed countless doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, procedures and prescriptions I was now caring for another family member. As I accompanied them to the doctor’s exam room and took the spare seat I was back in full caregiver mode. It was more than a bit disconcerting. This was not my first rodeo. This was not on my calendar. I was not ready for this.

But that’s how it goes. You love people and you care for them when they need it, whether it’s on your schedule or not. The good news is that the visit resulted in a plan for a series of tests and nothing that was considered an emergency. Serious business but an encouraging plan to manage the situation. It’s not always so good.

If you are thrust into the caregiving role without any training or awareness of what to expect and how to handle this stressful situation, I thought I would share are few tips and tricks I’ve learned to help you navigate this new world.

1. Know your role. Based on the needs of your person, determine what your role as a caregiver is at this moment. At this moment. Nothing changes more often than the needs of a person in care and you need to be flexible and adapt, because they are often unable to. Are you supporting them at doctor appointments and allowing them to manage themselves as much as possible? Are you driving the bus and making all the decisions? Just be clear with yourself and your person, as well as with professionals who are helping you both.

2. Bring a notebook. Whenever you accompany your person on a health care visit (or legal or financial) make sure you write down the recommendations, advice, concerns and any tests or action items that are needed. It will take a lot of pressure off your memory and save any disagreements in the future when you can whip that baby out and show your person what the professional advised/directed.

3. Take a nap. Whenever you are able to rest and recharge, do it and don’t feel guilty about it. You will not be able to care for anyone else if you are a wreck. If you are not a napper, then take a walk outside, read a bit of a trashy novel or do something you simply enjoy doing – even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Everyday. You must learn to Take a Break Before You Break.

4. Ask for help. Often you don’t know what you don’t know. There are loads of free resources available on line and with local organizations. It might be support group on Facebook or resources that you never dreamed existed. Reach out and find out. Start with the Area Agency on Aging, there are local chapters all across the country and they can help you find a huge array of services. is the link to find your local agency.

5. Lower your standards. When you are a caregiver (reluctant or not) you only have so many hours in the day. Most things can wait. You have to prioritize and decide what is the most important thing. Clean baseboards and made-from-scratch meals may not always be possible. Find shortcuts, ignore a bit of dust and sit down, make a list of easy to prepare meals and keep those ingredients on hand.

6. Just say no. If you have been a serial volunteer and always the one to raise your hand and help others, you have to cut back on that. When you are not in a caregiving role, you will have time to volunteer for the bake sale or to staff an event. Not now. Pace yourself.

7. Try to remember that “Your person isn’t giving you a hard time. Your person is having a hard time”. No one wants to be a burden and if you take care of yourself you will be in a more positive mindset to care with humor and grace rather than resentment and bitterness.

8. It won’t last forever. Though it often seems like it, know that caring for a fragile elderly person will come to an end. Try to find the good in each day no matter how small and focus on that rather than the frustrations and difficulties.

9. Accept help. People will offer general, “Call me if you need anything” statements of help. Try to think of all the things that you struggle with and find people who enjoy (or are good at) that thing. Whether it’s help with taxes, insurance, snow plowing, cooking, picking up prescriptions or just spending a few hours with your person, be clear and specific and allow others to help. Even if the helpers don’t do things as well as you do, you need to find ways to share the load. Bonus, your person may appreciate you even more when you return.

10. Let it go. When unkind words are said to you or you are impatient and short-tempered, forgive others and most importantly, forgive yourself. Remember, You can only do what you are able you with what you have at this moment.

Caregiving is hard. It’s often unappreciated and overwhelming. It’s also something that creates an extraordinary bond between people and can provide an opportunity to learn compassion and provide a tangible kind of love. Reluctant caregivers don’t expect this role and often dread it. If you are able to find joy in making a difference in one person’s life, to provide care that helps them be more comfortable, feel safer and feel loved, it’s worth it. Roslyn Carter wisely said, “There are four kinds of people in this world.
Those who are caregivers,
those who were caregivers,
those who will be caregivers and
those who will need caregivers.

Take care…of yourself.

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