How to Prepare for a Family Caregiver Role
Practical caregiver concepts explained to help with the transition to a family-support role
Reviewed by: Shikita Nunnery, Licensed Insurance Agent. Written by: Aaron Garcia.
Being a family caregiver is hard work, and you should never hesitate to ask for help.
There are many types of caregiver resources to help you in your new role, from support groups to mobile apps to physicians.
Knowing how to speak with your loved one’s doctors is vital. So is understanding the basics of their coverage, whether they’re on Medicare or private health insurance.
Prioritizing your health is important — do your best to make time for yourself. Eat well, exercise, and get quality sleep when you can.
For purposes of Medicare, you need legal authorization anytime you’re acting on behalf of a beneficiary.
If you are new to the role of caregiver, it’s essential to know that you can find support from peers and family when you ask. In other words, building a network of social support can help you feel less stressed and more in control of your role.
Seek other caregivers
If you’re ever feeling alone, realize you’re not; you’re one of roughly 44 million Americans taking care of elderly parents.  That group is surprisingly diverse age-wise; a recent survey by GoHealth showed a third of those in Generation X (aged 40 to 55) and a quarter of millennials (24 to 39) were already helping a loved one with their healthcare to the tune of more than 11 hours per week.
Asking for help takes courage. Finding a support group that can share experiences, discuss emotions, and helps you navigate your challenges can be a needed lifeline. You may find it’s easier to share your experience with others who have walked in your shoes.
Be specific when it comes to help
If you find yourself in the position of needing help, you’ve probably got a long list of things to be done. Is someone willing to help? Don’t make them guess how they can be helpful. Consider the timing of your request if you know the person well, and let them know exactly which of your to-dos they can tackle. It won’t do you any good to have the help you don’t need. Be specific. Then be grateful.
One way to open communication lines with a loved one’s provider is to open up about your situation and let them know you’re committed to providing excellent care. Also, share any information you have about your loved one’s condition. Whether the doctor has heard it already or not, it’s essential to show that you want to help provide the best care possible.
Learn how to communicate effectively with a physician
Primary care physicians (PCPs) may have anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes per patient. Their time is limited, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. You need to know what’s relevant and what kind of information is valuable. When they tell you, write it down. Coming to appointments with the information they need is critical.
Know the Care Plan
Your loved one’s care plan is consequential. It’s beneficial to understand medications, dietary needs, and anything else the provider prescribes. Being on the same page will go a long way.
You don’t need to be a licensed professional, but knowing the basics will help you determine your right coverage situation.
How does Medicare work? The federal government partially funds it through taxes. Medicare has four parts: Original Medicare (Parts A and B), Prescription Drug Plan (Part D), Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap), and Medicare Advantage (Part C). You can’t have Medicare Advantage and Original Medicare at the same time. However, you can have Original Medicare and a Medicare Supplement plan to help pay. Because Original Medicare and the Medicare Supplement do not cover medications, you will be allowed to enroll into a stand alone Prescription Drug Plan.
Need more help? We have more guides to help show the way, whether you’re new to Medicare or have years of experience with Medicare coverage.
Having a plan for your physical, emotional, and mental health is vital to anyone supporting a family member. When you shoulder the responsibility of caring for someone you love, it’s easy to lose sight of caring for yourself.
Prioritize your health
Whether you’re supporting a family member full or part-time, the work can be physical and demanding. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, so you’re healthy enough to provide the support needed. A healthy diet and getting quality sleep is crucial for physical and mental health.
Get professional help if you need it.
Watch out for depression. Self-compassion is essential when you start feeling overwhelmed. Try to remain socially connected, but if you feel like you need to speak with a professional, reach out and get the help you need. From mobile phone apps to virtual visits, many options provide talk therapy without a physician referral.
Family caregiving is hard. Whether you’re caring for someone facing the end of their days or supporting a loved one that needs some financial or physical help, you will likely experience changes in your life and your loved one. It’s not hard to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, so be sure to cut yourself slack when you can.
Be open to new tools and technologies
You may not be someone looking for the newest technology, but getting plugged in may save you time and headaches. Whether you need help managing lists, reminders and to-dos — or virtually tracking health vitals — there’s probably a tech solution waiting to do the work for you.
Give yourself the credit you deserve
Don’t beat yourself up. It’s a tough job, and you’re doing your best. When you commit to taking care of a family member, it’s easy to set unrealistic expectations for your new role. When you find yourself challenged, take a breath, and give yourself a break.
When you step into the caregiver role, you can expect to keep track of many new legal and health records. It’s pressing to have a plan and strategy for keeping track of these documents as soon as possible. Having an organizational system will allow you to keep a simple connection between you, your family, and your loved ones. Organizing records and documents can help others find meaningful information if you’re not available. You may also need to recall information from the past, and having a documented medical history can help you provide better care or recognize a health problem.
When is my loved one first eligible for Medicare?
If your loved one is nearing 65, they can typically enroll three months before their birthday and coverage will become effective the 1st of their birthday month. In total, they have a seven-month enrollment window known as their Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). But don’t wait until the last minute to help them enroll.
What if my loved one can’t afford health insurance?
There may be options; if your loved one is at Medicare age, they may be able to explore Medicaid resources to help pay for their healthcare. They can enroll in Medicare and Medicaid at the same time, and it’s called dual-eligibility. If your loved one is a child or has children, the Children’s’ Health Insurance Program (CHIP) may be able to help.
Can I make decisions on behalf of the insurance beneficiary?
For purposes of Medicare, you need legal authorization anytime you’re acting on behalf of a beneficiary. For example, you can’t enroll another person in Medicare, even your spouse, unless you have power of attorney, health-care proxy or other authorization to make such decisions for the beneficiary. But, adults can name a personal representative of their choosing, which would make that person their health care power of attorney and their personal representative.