8 Tips for First-Time Caregivers

Written by Toula Wootan

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You just became a caregiver.  NOW WHAT?

Often, this transition comes with no advance notice.  As you are leaving the hospital, the discharge planner says your loved one can no longer live independently. Suddenly, you are a caregiver. I often say, women have nine months to plan for motherhood, and nine seconds to plan for caregiving! 

If you provide any assistance to a loved one limited by illness or disability, you are a caregiver. Are you providing transportation to medical appointments?  Helping pay bills? I know. You say you are “just doing what you should do for someone you love.” However, if you are providing even one type of assistance, you are a caregiver. Most caregivers take on many roles beyond these. 

Here are eight simple tips to make this transition a little easier for you and your loved one. 

  1. Find the resources available to you. You are not alone. Many organizations now assist caregivers, as well as provide respite relief. Find the resources and support groups available to you. Start with your local community. Go online. You’ll find lots of assistance.  The “Circle Of” caregiving app is an excellent first stop. (https://circleof.com/)
  2. Develop your own self-care plan.  Include rest, a healthy diet, and at least a little daily exercise. You will need the strength! Do not neglect your own doctor’s appointments. Your health is important, too.
  3. Each day, do something you love, even if it’s for only 30 minutes. Is it reading? Gardening? Chatting with friends? Continuing these activities helps you keep your own sense of identity. Don’t “lose yourself” while caring for your loved one. I’ve sadly heard many people say, “I don’t know who I am now that I’m no longer a caregiver.” Don’t let this be you. You want to come out of this role physically and emotionally well. Maintaining your friendships is also important. Re-connecting can be difficult after a long absence. 
  4. Allow yourself plenty of grace.  You will make mistakes. It’s OK.  Admit it. Tell your loved one you goofed. 
  5. Give yourself permission to say no. You can’t do everything all the time.
  6. Keep the lines of communication open with your loved one. Let them know what you need. Remember, this is a transition for them too.
  7. If you are struggling, seek help. Being a caregiver is Very Emotional.  It’s very difficult watching your loved one decline.  Sadness, guilt, anger and resentment are not uncommon. Confide in a friend. Talk with other caregivers. Seek counseling or a support group. 
  8. Don’t forget that you are still a daughter, sibling, spouse, etc. Spend time just being with your loved one, enjoying this relationship. Don’t lose sight of it. You will have sweet memories to reflect on later. 

You may be in this caregiving role for a long time.  Things will change.  You will become more confident and comfortable. You may have good days and bad days, but it will get easier. REMEMBER: you must take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of your loved one.

For more from Toula, check out her book “Love Stories and Timeless Tips.”

​​Toula Wootan is a dynamic pioneer, dedicated to the mission of “caring for the caregiver” in Northeast Florida and nationally. In 2008 she founded the Caregiver Coalition of Northeast Florida. The mission of the Caregiver Coalition is to collectively elevate caregiving and improve the quality of life for caregivers in Northeast Florida. The motto is “You are not alone!” Toula was also the primary caregiver for her parents for five years. Since 2010, Toula’s weekly radio show, “Toula’s Tips for Caregivers” has offered advice to caregivers. Her mission is to be the voice of the caregiver, while offering resources and assistance to those who call in. Her guests include caregivers, respected national speakers and authors, business professionals, managers of local, state and federal programs and spiritual leaders who educate and entertain her audiences. Her show is on I-Heart, several other digital platforms and her site       http://www.toulastipsforcaregivers.com/

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