Often, when the subject of caring is discussed, much of the literature surrounding the issue is geared towards experienced carers. While this information is vitally important, there is far less insight into what it means to be a carer for the first time.
For those stepping into a caring role, the lack of support can be extremely challenging. Caring is, in its own way, like starting a new job; unless you are medically trained or separately qualified, people quickly begin to feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to take in, so many life changes to make – but relatively little insight into how to deal with the situation, both on practical and emotional levels.
As a result of the above, we thought it would be useful to put together an essential guide for those starting to care for a loved one for the first time.
When becoming a carer, you may find it hugely beneficial to learn as much about the health condition your loved one is experiencing. In some cases, obtaining this background knowledge will be relatively straightforward, especially for conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, for more unusual or rare conditions, you may need to actually arrange an appointment with a medical professional for a full overview. Do bear in mind that if you want to speak to your loved one’s physician, you will usually need their permission to do so – but you also have the option of using an online doctor service if you would prefer a more generalized overview.
Look for support
Caring can be incredibly lonely, especially if you are the sole carer for a member of your family. It is therefore helpful to look for support as soon as you step into the caring role; the better supported you are from the start, the better you and your loved one will be. In accessing support services, it’s usually best to focus on condition-specific help; Alzheimer’s support groups, dedicated dementia services and advice guides, and so on and so forth. Alternatively, if you cannot access condition-specific support, focus on general support networks that are aimed at assisting all carers – though these general services are less specific, they can still be incredibly beneficial.
Caring for a loved one will likely alter your life significantly, especially if you intend to continue working. In particular, your social life may be impacted; you may need to miss significant events, or simply find that you don’t have enough time to idly chat the day away anymore. It’s therefore helpful to spend a little time talking to your friends and family when you are first starting to care for someone; explain that your life is going to change and why this is necessary. These conversations allow you to reassure yourself that everyone in your life understands the situation, so you don’t need to feel guilty if you suddenly have to cancel plans or miss social occasions, and can also help to connect with support and reassurance from those who care about you.
Think about your own needs
One of the most common consequences of caring is that the carer pushes their own needs into the background, which is, of course, understandable. Caring can be a consuming task, and if a carer is just about coping, they figure that that’s good enough. However, the one downside of continually pushing your own needs into the background is that there is a strong chance you’ll begin to feel overwhelmed – and this can happen incredibly quickly. If you neglect your own health, or don’t give yourself a break from time to time, then the situation can quickly escalate. Options such as respite care can help you to take a few days off to focus on your own life, get regular medical check-ups, and even consider seeing a therapist if you feel it would be helpful.
If you are caring for a loved one for the first time, it’s incredibly important to be as kind to yourself as possible. You’re entering into a new, confusing experience, and while you will no doubt want to focus your energies on your loved one, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed from time to time. It’s therefore helpful to remind yourself that a transitional period is natural, that no one is expecting you to know everything immediately, and that maintaining your own health and well-being is still incredibly important.