Caring for a family member or close friend who is aging or ill is one of the most important roles you can play in that relationship — and one of the most complicated.
The caregiving can happen suddenly with an accident or disease diagnosis, or start gradually with driving your loved one to get groceries or see a doctor. Later, you may find yourself preparing meals, handling their finances or taking time off work to address their growing needs.
Whether you're just beginning to anticipate a need or taking care of a family member full time, these tips, resources and checklists can help you get organized and find support on your caregiving journey. Remember: Just take it one step at a time.
1. Start the conversation
The right time to talk about the future is now, even if it's uncomfortable.
Ask your loved one about their preferences, values and wishes for things that matter, from health to finances. If you wait until an accident, fall or serious diagnosis, when everyone's stress levels are sky high, your choices may be more limited and more difficult to evaluate.
- Look for an opening. Rather than bringing up a tough topic out of the blue, find a suitable conversation starter — perhaps a recent comment from your loved one or an article you saw online. Example: “You mentioned your eyes are bothering you. Is this causing problems with reading or driving?”
- Keep trying. For some people, admitting they need help can be hard. If your first talk doesn't go well, gently try again. If you are repeatedly shut out, consider asking another family member, a trusted friend or a doctor to approach the person about your concerns.
- Don't avoid the subject of money. It's often at the heart of decisions you'll make as a caregiver. Respectfully ask your loved one to review bank accounts and health insurance so you can know how much is available to cover potential costs.
- Listen to and respect your loved one's desires. The person you're caring for always should participate in discussions about his needs and plans, to every extent possible.
- Bring others into the conversation. Ask a few other people close to your loved one — family members or friends — to be part of the process. Conflicts may arise, but don't be afraid to talk through them. Better to do so now than in a time of crisis.