The Caregiver Learning Curve
Why do we instantly expect ourselves to know everything when we first begin to provide care for a loved one? We don’t make such assumptions about other endeavors; for instance, doctors, teachers, lawyers, financial planners—as well as many other professionals—receive years of education before they’re even allowed to practice solo. Occupations ranging from pilots to scuba instructors to CPAs all require training and certification in their respective fields. Even engaged couples will often go through pre-marital counseling in an effort to learn how to navigate their new relationship dynamic.
Something does happen, though, when a person takes on this labor-intensive role. Everyone—including the new caregiver—seems to think that knowledge of all things “caregiving” just miraculously drops into the brain of the newbie. How can we think like this—that just because someone has received a power of attorney document it naturally follows that they suddenly know and understand everything which needs to be done?
I clearly remember experiencing this phenomenon when I was a new caregiver. The bottom had fallen out so suddenly with my grandparents; they had wandered away from home and turned up four days later more than two hours from their house. I had to instantly spring into action, trying to straighten out the tangled mess caused by their impromptu road trip, frantically working to determine what needed to happen to keep them safe. I recall how everyone looked at me with complete confidence like I knew exactly what to do, but the truth was I knew absolutely nothing—not what to do, nor where to take them, or how to handle anything! I wound up having to feel my way along inch by inch, just praying I wouldn’t make a mistake—which, ironically, turned out to be the very way I learned what worked and what didn’t.
Nobody—but nobody—enters their role as caregiver knowing how to do everything the job demands. Each family, every situation, has subtle differences; providing care is not a one-size-fits-all task. While it’s important for the new caregiver to make sure their care recipient is safe, it’s equally imperative that they allow themselves time to undergo a learning curve and not demand “perfection” from the get-go. But realistically, how can this be accomplished?
Make sure the estate plan is in place before it’s needed. This allows the designated caregiver an opportunity to be educated about the coming responsibilities, thereby ensuring they’re better prepared to assume the role if it becomes necessary.
Get Involved with Other Caregivers
Do an internet search to find a local group of caregivers who meet regularly. The bond between people who have a shared experience brings encouragement and support, as well as opportunities for the exchange of helpful information. Caregivers can learn what has worked (and what hasn’t) for other people in the same situation.
Attend Caregiver Events
Search for conferences and/or workshops that are designed to educate caregivers by providing tips for working with their care recipient. Focus on events that include information about resources available to caregivers. Some are attended in-person while others are online, and many of the in-person events provide respite care so the caregiver doesn’t have to worry about their loved one.
Give yourself a break by realizing that no one starts any new “job” knowing everything they need to know. You have to realize that learning to be a caregiver is done largely through “on the job training.” Just remember to remain open to learn because knowledge and information can make these tough caregiving tasks a little easier.