Caregiving 101: Common Questions Family Caregivers Might Have

Millions of adults across the United States will find themselves in the position of taking on a caregiver role for a family member every year. The caregiving journey is often difficult, both emotionally and physically, and with that journey often comes many questions.

In honor of the millions of caregivers around the country, here’s a brief overview of many common questions that family caregivers have and how you can answer them. 

Questions that Family Caregivers May Have

As health care professionals, we are the ones who interact the closest with both our patients and their family caregivers in regards to their medical care. 

That puts us in the position where we’ll likely receive, and should be able to answer, questions that families of patients may have about providing care to their loved ones.

I’ve become the caregiver for a family member. How do I start?

For new caregivers, knowing where to start is difficult and can be overwhelming. It often begins with unexpected and stressful situations — an accident or medical problem. Other times the onset is more gradual, like in the case of an aging family member.

The first step regardless of the situation is to figure out what the caregiver and their loved one needs. Can the person receiving care continue to live mostly independently? Do they need 24-hour supervision, or just someone to drop by groceries and do laundry a few times a week?

The next step is to figure out how to get all those needs taken care of. Encourage them to coordinate with friends and other family members. Perhaps one person can be in charge of groceries and another in charge of laundry, or maybe one person chooses a day of the week to drop in.

Also encourage the new caregiver to reach out to local resources to see what services are available, like adult day care, transportation, or meal delivery.

What do I do to make sure my family member’s affairs are in order?

The beginning of the caregiving relationship is also a perfect time to make sure the patient’s affairs are in order. This is especially important in case their health situation might get worse, like with degenerative diseases.

Affairs refers to many different parts of their lives. Here are some affairs of the patient’s life that family members should consider addressing with the patient if at all possible:

  • Power of attorney
  • Do not resuscitate orders
  • Bills and payments
  • Login information for important websites
  • Legal will and inheritance
  • Personal records, like birth certificates, social security cards, etc.

Deciding many of these issues ahead of any emergency or worsening condition can save a lot of heartache and indecision in the future. 

What if my family and I disagree about care?

In many cases, there are multiple family members participating in the care of the patient. Often it’s siblings caring for an aging parent or parents caring for a sick child. 

With so many people involved, disagreements are bound to happen. Usually, any arguments are short-lived, and the parties involved resolve them as they would any other argument.

But sometimes they can be more challenging. Perhaps one sibling wants to move the parent into a long-term care facility and another one is strongly opposed to the idea. Or perhaps one parent wants the child to undergo a certain treatment while the other one doesn’t.

These situations can be frustrating and tumultuous for those involved, and there have been many court cases that have tried to answer the question of which caregiver gets final say in certain circumstances.

Encourage caregivers to establish good communication with other caregivers that may be involved. That might mean having regular meetings to check up with everyone and provide updates. This is especially important when determining legal authority, like power of attorney.

For serious situations and more permanent decisions, the caregivers may need to seek outside help and resources. Counseling can help them work through communicating with one another and properly interpreting the loved one’s wishes and fitting it within their situation and needs.

Is there any financial help for family caregivers?

Caregiving takes a certain level of dedication of time and resources, including finances. In some instances, there may be financial assistance for caregivers to access to ease some strains of care.

Depending on the patient’s condition, support resources may offer assistance or discounts in purchasing equipment or medication. For patients who are veterans or using Medicaid, there may be direct financial aid through a variety of different organizations depending on current state and federal laws.

Exact qualifications and options will vary depending on where you live and what the patient’s situation and health condition is. Familiarize yourself with possible options that may apply to your patients and their caregivers. 

Is there any way I can take a break and still make sure my family member is cared for?

Full-time caregiving is exhausting, and many caregivers in these situations desperately need a break from responsibilities to care for themselves. 

Services to provide relief are often available in the form of respite services. This is a type of service that covers a variety of different options, including adult day care, short-term stays in nursing care facilities, or home health services. 

These services are often offered by various local agencies. For example, caregivers of older or vulnerable adults might find this type of support through a county’s adult services or senior services center. 

Am I a bad person if I move my family member into a long-term care facility?

Some family members feel guilty when determining whether or not they should move their loved one into a long-term care facility. For many of their loved ones, this option may be undesirable, as they’d be leaving their homes to move into unfamiliar surroundings. 

Every family’s situation is different. Deciding that it’s for the best of everyone involved to make the move can be difficult and emotional, but it may be necessary to ensure the loved one gets the support and best quality care. 

Caregiver Resources

Family caregivers will usually find that they have many questions throughout the entire journey of caregiving. As an advocate for our patients, it’s also within our duty to make sure they are getting the proper care they need, and that means being aware of resources available to support their caregivers in providing necessary care.

Familiarize yourself with the various resources available for caregivers, regardless of your speciality. Also pay close attention to both your patients’ needs as well as the needs of their caregivers. 

Know what questions often come up and how to answer them, taking the initiative yourself to common questions that caregivers might not know how to ask. You never know who might need the help.