Whenever I meet people at a conference or book signing or speak to an audience, one of the first questions I get is how I came up with the “Seven Principles of Family Caregiving.” My answer is that they came out of hard earned experience. In my early years as a caregiver I had no understanding of my role, no framework to guide my thinking and decision-making. Most of the other caregivers I knew were in the same boat. There were a lot of people telling caregivers what to do but no one was taking time to explain why. As I began to make sense of my caregiving role some basic fundamentals started to come into focus.
Help Without Hurting. Family caregivers don’t do what they do for money. They are motivated by love and devotion. But caregiving is a job that has to be done the right way. The more caregivers understand about their roles, the skills they need to develop, and the way they should conduct themselves, the better. That way they can serve without making needless mistakes that could actually harm the person being cared for.
Be Legal. Having the legal standing to represent, speak, and act on behalf the care recipient is critical. Every family caregiver should have basic legal authority and protections.
Accept Assistance. Caregiving should not be seen as something heroic that requires extreme personal sacrifice. Seeking and accepting assistance lightens the burdens that come with the job. Learn to ask for help.
Avoid Panic. Caregiving requires a clear head and self-control. There are many emergencies and pressure situations where emotions can get out of hand. The caregiver should strive to be a source of calm and a voice of reason.
Be A Team Player. To become a caregiver is to join a ‘healing team’ supporting the patient. That team includes a wide range of health care providers and other professionals working in medical facilities and service organizations. Being a team player keeps everyone on track and ensures the best outcomes.
Safety First. Nothing is more important than being safe. The safety of both the care recipient and the safety of the caregiver should always get highest priority.
Practice Self Care. Family caregivers suffer unacceptable rates of death and damage to their own health. Taking care of oneself is the best way to ensure that the care recipient is taken care of. Get regular checkups. Exercise. Maintain social relationships. Take breaks from your care routine.
These principles flowed from notes kept during my own long-term experience as a family caregiver. They represent the essence of what I learned during my period of service. I asked myself, “If you were starting all over again as a caregiver, how would you do it?” It is my hope that these principles will provide a useful guide to others who find themselves doing this honorable work.