Caregiving is a journey with twists and turns. It can be difficult to understand what lies ahead unless you have already been down this path, and even then, the actual experiences can vary greatly. Although no two caregiving journeys are identical, they often follow similar trajectories. Below are 5 common stages that caregivers may progress through - understanding these can provide you with some foresight into the future and help you prepare.
Stage 1: The Expectant or Anticipatory Caregiver
You might not recognize yourself quite yet as a caregiver, but you know that you will be one in the near future. Your loved one is scheduled for surgery or is exhibiting changes in health, memory or functioning and you acknowledge that they will need support in order to remain independent. You are starting to prepare and learn about resources and options - make sure you understand your loved one’s wishes for care, ensure that healthcare directives and power of attorneys are in place, review financial planning, and learn about available long term care services. You may start to feel nervous or anxious about your upcoming responsibilities.
Stage 2: The Freshman Caregiver
You have moved into a caregiving role, assisting with some tasks such as helping out with chores and errands or going to a medical appointment with your loved one. At this stage, you should learn more about your loved one’s medical condition and how that may impact their day-to-day life. This can be a stressful time as you are experiencing new emotions, learning to balance your responsibilities with caregiving, and taking over tasks that your loved one had been doing independently. Even at this early stage, it is important to ensure that you have a support system available.
Stage 3: The Entrenched Caregiver
You have incorporated caregiving into your daily life, and it occupies more of your time and energy. This is usually the longest caregiving stage as you take on more responsibilities. You may experience stress, anger, frustration, guilt, anxiety, or depression and notice a decline in your own physical and mental health. Make sure that you have support, seek outside help, and set boundaries. As you progress through this stage you may also come to a point where you are able to find joy and humor in the moment, accept the fact that no one is a perfect caregiver, and are practicing self-care.
Step 4: The Transitioning Caregiver
You are realizing that your caregiving role may be changing or coming to end - whether this is because your loved one’s needs have advanced to a point where they need specialized care or you sense a pending loss. Common emotions include guilt for moving them to a higher level of care, anticipatory grief, and loss. Support is important during this stage as you deal with these changes and start to envision your life when you are no longer a caregiver. This is also when you should make sure to spend quality time with your loved one.
Stage 5: Not a Caregiver
Your loved has recovered from surgery or treatment or their death has brought your caregiving journey to an end. However you can continue to honor your loved one’s memory and share your caregiving experience with others. As you mourn your loved one, you will likely feel grief, loss, and possibly relief. All of these emotions are valid - there is no right way to grieve. Seek support to help cope with the loss and to move back into a life without caregiving responsibilities.