There comes a time in most people’s lives where we are responsible for others’ care and well-being. When we are young, caregiving might be for younger siblings or a babysitting job in the neighborhood. As we get older, the responsibility may expand to children of our own, aging parents or relatives, or a sick loved one. If you are about to become a caregiver for an adult, then these five tips could go a long way in helping you create a positive experience for yourself and the person you are caring for.

Prioritize Communication

Creating an atmosphere of trust and open communication will help you and the person you care for to work together efficiently. Let your patient know that you are willing to listen to them and encourage them to talk about their needs and concerns. Speak to your patient in a positive and friendly tone and be mindful of your body language and facial expressions. Your behavior will help establish an environment where you can resolve potential problems through discussion.

Good communication also has to do with understanding each other’s communication styles. Some people are gregarious, while others have difficulty expressing the simplest of wants and needs. Learning your patient’s communication style and helping them learn yours will mitigate
conflict and misunderstanding.

Set Personal Boundaries

It’s easy for caregivers to fall into a cycle of doing absolutely everything for everyone else. To avoid burnout and even resentment, identify what tasks you are willing to help your patient with before the caregiving assignment starts. When necessary, readjust those boundaries. Whether your patient needs assistance with cooking, cleaning, visiting the doctor, or something else, be sure to express what kind of work you are willing and unwilling to do.

Boundaries don’t imply that you are being unkind or don’t want to help someone in need. They are helpful for both parties because we all have limits to what we can and are willing to do, and without expressing those limits to others, we are putting people in the awkward position of
guessing at how to be respectful of our time. Boundaries are a form of self-care. You may find yourself unable to manage your responsibilities, overwhelmed, stressed, and angry without them. Avoid these issues by being honest about what you can or cannot do upfront.

Know Your Patient’s Capabilities and Limitations

Not everything is obvious. You may think your patient is physically capable of doing a task when, in reality, they are mentally and emotionally unable to help themselves. Understanding your patient’s limitations is about more than just knowing what they are diagnosed with or what their physical ailment may be.

What is their mental state? Are they frustrated that they cannot take care of themselves? If so, are there tasks or errands which you would typically do where they can help? Are they anxious, fearful, ambitious, or proud? Each of these feelings needs to be paired with what they are medically able to do and not do, and your approach to caretaking requires some adjustments
based on these combined factors.

Keep Track of Caregiving in a Journal

In addition to recording your patient’s food and medicine intake, consider keeping track of the entire caregiving experience, including what type of care you performed each day, your patient’s mood, activities you both took part in, and any observations you may have. The journal could serve as a valuable tool for identifying successes in your caretaking, challenges, or the cause of an off day.

It’s impossible to remember everything you do and feel throughout this experience, so a record of it can add clarity when you need some. Journaling is also cathartic and a great way to help you process your emotions since caregiving is both rewarding and demanding.

Identify a Support Group for Yourself and Your Patient

No one can or should go about caregiving alone. You and your patient will both need the love and support of friends and family as you navigate your relationship. Having a support group is also essential in emergencies or if your patient needs help when you are unavailable.

Support also comes in the form of trusted doctors, agencies, and organizations which specialize in caregiving. They can provide tools and access to resources to help you, and your patient live better and thrive. Create this group by first identifying two or three people who can help your
patient in an emergency, and reach out to caregiving organizations and government agencies to pinpoint support services. There is a lot of help available if you look and ask for it. You are not in this alone.

Check out our infographic for tips on how to cultivate a strong patient-caregiver relationship.