by Beverly Shenkman, M.A., M.Ed

Being a caregiver isn’t easy, no matter how much you love the person you’re caring for. Family relationships are often complicated, and when health issues arise, the situation becomes even more stressful and emotional, especially for the caregiver.

Whether you’re currently helping to manage a loved one’s healthcare or you take on that responsibility in the future, keep the following things in mind as you make decisions about their care:

1. Your loved one’s needs are unique. Each patient’s needs are different. As a caregiver, expect your loved one’s needs to change and evolve over time. This may not happen on a predictable schedule, so be aware of signs that it may be time to update their healthcare plan or schedule an appointment with a different kind of doctor.  For example, does a medication that helped in the past now seem less effective?

2. Your wellbeing matters, too. As you think about what’s best for your loved one, it’s also important to recognize and acknowledge your own needs. Caregiving isn’t just about focusing on your loved one—you also have to make sure you take care of yourself

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendants instruct you to “Put on your oxygen mask before helping others.” That’s a good way to think about caregiving, too. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be capable of giving others the help they need.

3. Let go of the guilt. Caregiving is an emotional experience, and it’s very common for caregivers to feel guilty or worry that they’re being selfish. People are often reluctant to admit that they find the responsibilities of caregiving overwhelming. Instead, they might believe that it is their responsibility and even obligation to provide the necessary care for a spouse or parent where there has been a loving relationship over the years.

If you find yourself in a caregiving role that you hadn’t planned to take on, or caregiving requires more time and energy than you anticipated, it’s natural to be frustrated with the situation. Instead of feeling guilty, acknowledge the challenges you’re facing. Consider seeking additional help so that you and your loved one both have more support.

4. You have options. There are many care options available to your loved one, but you may need professional assistance to understand and evaluate them. 

For example, on the surface, caring for an aging relative at home may seem like the kindest choice, but that’s not always accurate. A family member with dementia may feel safer and more comfortable in a memory care facility, where their daily life includes more structure and support.

5. Ask for expert help when you need it. Managing a loved one’s care is challenging, especially if family members disagree about what choices to make. You don’t have to figure everything out on your own.

An expert health advisor provides a neutral perspective, presents options, and offers clarity in complex situations. Health advisors look at the whole person and the whole picture through an expert lens. This includes evaluating everything from their nutrition to their medical team, attending doctor’s appointments, and supporting ER care.

Ultimately, it will always be the family’s decision on how to proceed, but a health advisor can offer valuable support along the way.

Beverly Shenkman, M.A., M.Ed is a Senior Advisor with Better Health Advisors. She has more than 35 years of experience in healthcare and has worked closely with treatment teams at major NYC hospitals, including Mount Sinai, New York Presbyterian, New York University, and Beth Israel.

The team at Better Health Advisors understands that every family has different needs. For guidance on ensuring that your loved ones have access to the best care, reach out to us.