Caregiving is a role that takes many people by surprise. The financial and emotional toll of assisting a sick or aging loved one seems to rise every year, according to several studies. Now, an estimated 90 million Americans provide unpaid caregiving that covers a variety of ailments from cancer and Alzheimer’s to stroke, and much more.
Author and talk show host Leeza Gibbons has firsthand experience with taking care of a loved one. She has been a family caregiver for more than a decade. Through her work with Leeza’s Care Connection, she’s both served and learned from thousands of caregivers from around the country.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, which gives us the opportunity to recognize and honor the important role family members, friends and neighbors play in caring for loved ones. This year’s theme is “Caregiving Around the Clock,” and we had the chance to ask Leeza to share wisdom for caregivers juggling the tasks of caring for their loved ones as well as for themselves.
Here are her six most important pieces of advice for caregivers, whether they are just starting out or already in the thick of it.
1. Prepare for your role as caregiver, and own it.
“The first thing to recognize is, odds are, you will be caring for someone, or someone will be caring for you at some point. Now is the time to begin having conversations with your loved ones. Caregiving is not anyone’s definition of happily ever after. But when it happens, the sooner you can claim it and name it, the better you’re going to be able to navigate this path.”
2. Bolster your support network then divide and conquer.
“You’re going to need people. This is not a path you can walk alone. My siblings and I had a caregiving plan for my mom, with Alzheimer’s, and again with my dad when he had bypass surgery after his heart attack. We looked at what we each could contribute: Who is the best organizer? Who can contribute the most financially? Who can physically be there to communicate with the doctors? We all took our roles and stayed in our lanes.”
3. Leverage technology.
“These days, technology offers a big advantage, especially for new caregivers. There are many free apps to help manage your time, start family calendars, and help you meditate, breathe and protect your mental health. Medical alert services are great at helping seniors embrace their independence and giving caregivers peace of mind, knowing that help is always available. I feel much more comfortable knowing my Dad has one, which I talked him into getting after learning he had a cardiac risk. He was wearing it two years later when he had a heart attack, and it saved his life.”
4. Connect with other caregivers, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Leeza’s Care Connection links people to other caregivers who have walked the path before. With strategies, tools and tips, our goal is to help caregivers be more confident and competent and to realize they don’t have to let go of themselves to care for someone they love. Better care for caregivers means better outcomes for care receivers. Our focus is to care for the caregivers.”
5. Locate your resilience and strive for optimism.
“One thing I’ve noticed about those who handle their caregiving role well is how quickly they let go of failures. People who are optimistic about caregiving aren’t in denial. They can rebound and recover better. Those who are tied to their resilience are the ones who get through the challenges more affectively. There many ways for us to reclaim ourselves on the caregiving journey — and it’s different for every person — whether it’s taking a yoga class, exploring mindfulness, making art, or participating in dance or humor therapy. We have lots of programs on our website that help people connect with their resilience. The ability to focus on what’s left, instead of what’s lost is a key component to being successful.”
6. Find the joy.
“I’ve seen many families learn they have great capacity to accept tremendous change and still come out on the other side with happiness, joy and a new definition of what it means to be a family. The people who survive hard times and thrive through their caregiving experience become proud, as I have been and as my family has become. We learned so much about ourselves and were able to face a lot of uncertainty with hope and grace.”
Brooke Edwards is a writer in Little Rock, Arkansas. She and her husband raise two daughters and have twice as many pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping. Brooke enjoys Harry Potter and camping and is fresh on the Minecraft scene.