Family and primary caregivers are more important than ever, and it’s likely a role you make take on at some point. In fact, almost one in five of the 48 million caregivers provided unpaid care last year to adults in need, Yet, if you don’t have a background in elder care, it can be challenging to cope. Below is a comprehensive family caregiver guide to give you an overview of the world of caregiving.
Types of caregivers
While caregiving can take many forms, caregivers are typically classified as “informal” – or those providing unpaid care – and “formal,” paid caregivers who have received training. A caregiving team may include family caregivers and formal, trained caregivers who help in a variety of ways with senior care.
1. Family caregiver
A family caregiver is often an adult child, friend or neighbor of the person needing care.
Family caregivers do many simple caregiving tasks to assist seniors in their daily activities, such as housekeeping and medication reminders.
2. Professional caregiver
Professional caregivers get paid to provide care at home or in a facility and typically offer either medical or non-medical assistance.
A. Home health care caregivers
These professionals are licensed medical professionals, like nurses and therapists, who are focused on skilled care services, such as mobility restoration and rehabilitation.
B. Non-medical in-home caregivers
Non-medical caregivers assist a family caregiver in doing other caregiving tasks, such as meal preparation and yard work.
3. Hospice caregiver
Many seniors with life-limiting conditions choose to stay at home close to their families. They receive support from hospice caregivers who provide end-of-life care and alleviate pain caused by the symptoms of their condition.
4. Volunteer caregiver
Volunteer caregivers step in if primary caregivers need a break. They provide non-medical and unpaid care support, like light housekeeping and companionship care.
5. Independent caregiver
Independent caregivers are home care professionals who don’t work in an agency. Instead, a family caregiver may hire them as private-duty caregivers. Often, they’re considered household employees, so the family pays for their payroll and taxes. They offer services ranging from personal care to medical care, such as injections, wound care and vital signs monitoring.
Need to know more? Learn about how different caregivers help you take care of your family.
Certifications for primary caregivers
Caregiving opens up possibilities for deep rewarding experiences, and the significance of making an impact in other people’s lives can lead to caregiving as a full-time career.
“For more than twenty years, I was a family caregiver,” said professional caregiver Pamela Wilson. “That led to a 20+ year career as a professional caregiver.”
A role as primary caregiver can provide a sense of personal reward, and for some family caregivers, a natural next step is to seek training and certifications—both to provide better care for their own loved ones and to pursue caregiving as a job.
If you share the same sentiments, a state caregiver certification can get you the caregiving training required in assisted living and other care facilities and will set you up for a paying career down the line.
1. Basic caregiver certification
Caregiving training teaches the basics of how to support a loved one with activities of daily living (ADLs) and how to protect your own mental and physical health.You may use your state’s family caregiver resource centers to locate training classes.
2. Certified nursing assistant (CNA) training
CNA programs teach how to provide aid-related care to patients under the supervision of a licensed nurse. CNAs usually work in long-term residential facilities, adult day care and rehabilitation centers. Find out about specific CNA Licensing information by state.
3. Home health aide (HHA) training
HHA licensing is similar to a basic caregiver certification. The training teaches the fundamentals of personal hygiene, safety and supporting the elderly at home. For licensing requirements, check with your state board of health.
4. Caregiver certification for hospice, palliative and end-of-life care
A primary caregiver who completes training for end-of-life care can provide compassionate care and comfort to a terminally ill senior parent. You can find various programs from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
5. Caregiver certification for specific conditions
Certain health conditions, like dementia and diabetes, require the caregiver to have extensive knowledge. If your parent has dementia, for example, you can sign up for programs that provide training in how to best support someone with cognitive impairment.
Senior housing options a primary caregiver must know
A senior parent may eventually require a safer environment that provides a higher level of care. Which option is best for your aging loved ones? It depends on a variety of factors, such as their mental and physical capacity, their preferences and the amount of assistance they need on a daily basis.
1. Aging in place
As many as 76% of Americans age 50 and above prefer to remain in their current residence as they age. If a loved one is capable or requires only minor assistance, aging in place may be best. Others modify their homes to promote safety, such as installing raised toilet seats for seniors with mobility limitations.
2. Independent living
Independent living offers apartments in a safe environment for a monthly fee. Communities provide cooking and home maintenance services for older adults who don’t want the responsibilities of homeownership.
3. Assisted living
Seniors who need some assistance in the activities of daily living, like personal hygiene, will thrive in assisted living. The communities have 24-hour care access that a primary caregiver can’t provide at home. See our state by state guide to assisted living for help finding the best assisted living community in your area.
4. Nursing homes
Seniors with severe health conditions or injuries who require thorough care may move to a nursing home. Homes also provide 24-hour personalized care. Trained staff support residents with getting in and out of bed, bathing, feeding and more.
5. Memory care
Seniors with dementia move from assisted living to memory care if their symptoms progress from mild to moderate and severe. The communities offer 24-hour individualized care and supervision in a secure environment, and the high staff-to-resident ratio during waking hours means residents don’t have to wait to receive care.
If you need assistance finding senior housing in your market, connect with a senior housing specialist to help you address senior-specific issues. Get more help and information about senior housing options, and learn about how to choose the best housing option when caring for a parent.
How a primary caregiver can make home safe for the elderly
Many caregivers are not aware of the top safety issues for seniors who age at home. In particular, slips and falls are the leading causes of accidents at home.
Each year, more than 25% of older adults fall, but you can prevent injuries by focusing on three key safety areas:
1. Sufficient lighting: Make sure entryways and walkways are well-lit.
2. Clutter-free floors: Secure carpets on the floor. Use rug gripper or non-slip rug pads over hard surface floors. In the bathroom, use nonslip mats, and install grab bars, a hand-held showerhead and a shower chair for support. Lastly, add railings and non-adhesive strips on any stairs.
3. Access to frequently used things: Place commonly used items within reach to avoid using chairs and step stools.
Find more help and information on health and safety for seniors, including what primary caregivers need to know about senior medication management. Legal documents every senior should have
A primary caregiver must be aware of the various legal documents and tools that can help protect your senior parent. Be sure to find a trustworthy attorney to draw up these documents for you.
1. A will is a binding, legal document that controls a senior’s estate distribution upon death. Work with an attorney, or you may also use an online will making tool. See our estate planning by state tool for more help.
2. An advanced directive or a living will is a legal document that protects seniors if they become incapacitated.
3. A durable power of attorney is a legal document that designates someone to make financial, legal and health care decisions on behalf of a senior.
Getting involved in managing your loved one’s finances and legal concerns eases the stress they’ll experience in handling these tasks later on. Get more help and information on the legal side of family caregiving.
Ways to make a senior happy
Due to their declining health, many seniors suffer from depression. Instead of enjoying their golden years, their health spirals out of control. Primary caregivers can use a few simple strategies to improve a senior’s mood:
1. Treat sleeping problems. A senior may not be getting enough sleep because of an underlying condition.
2. Encourage them to engage in physical activities and unique hobbies, such as arts and music.
3. Serve nutritious meals, including those with fiber-rich grains and lean protein.
4. Consider adopting a pet to help encourage social and emotional connection.
5. Seek a professional if mental health symptoms are not getting better.
Find more help and resources for supporting your senior loved ones’ happiness and well-being. Life changes and physical ailments can create mental health issues, so learn how to recognize elderly depression and other symptoms.
Self-care tips for primary caregivers
With so many Americans providing unpaid care – often on top of regular day jobs and other responsibilities – it’s not surprising so many are exhausted due to overlapping obligations. Family caregivers have a lot to handle, explained Wilson, and life can often become unbalanced with all of the energy going into caregiving. It’s important to acknowledge the toll that caregiving can take on you, ask for help, and find ways to restore your energy and sense of self.
Here are some self-care tips for managing your own stress:
1. Know your limits. Acknowledge when you need to take a break, and hire a caregiver for respite.
2. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep.
3. Explore stress coping mechanisms, and try counseling or join a caregiving support group.
4. Accept negative feelings. It’s normal to occasionally feel frustrated with the person you’re caring for.
5. Caregiving can have long-term economic consequences. To avoid financial strain, learn how to manage your finances. Track all your expenses and look into government programs that might help cover some of the caregiving costs.
Find more help and information on family caregiving and how to take care of yourself or support someone else as a caregiver.
Caregiving is a gift
Serving as a primary caregiver can often be overwhelming, both emotionally and physically, and you may often be challenged by the best ways to balance caregiving and working. The good news is that the feeling of fulfillment has always outweighed the challenges caregivers face every day. Always seek out resources who can help and always prioritize caring for yourself throughout the journey.