It’s not always something you plan for; rather, it’s something you step into when it's necessary. And, taking on the role of a caregiver is no small task. When a loved one needs advanced levels of care, it’s something you may need help navigating.
The number of Americans providing unpaid care for a loved one has increased over the last five years External Site, from 43.5 million in 2015 to 53 million in 2020. Today, about one in three adults External Site is providing care for a loved one, and 24 percent are caring for more than one person.
While caregiving can be rewarding, it can also carry emotional and physical stress. Today’s caregivers report they are in worse health, physically and emotionally, compared to five years ago. They’re battling emotions like sadness, fear, resentment and isolation. They’re worried about their loved one’s future, they may feel guilt for not doing enough, and they’re exhausted from balancing various roles.
Get prepared before the situation becomes a crisis
The good news is that there are some things you can do to ease into the role of caregiving. But, it requires some prep work.
“Our advice is not to wait until you are in crisis mode to get the care your family member needs," says Di Findley, executive director of Iowa Caregivers External Site, an advocacy group for professional direct care workers. "Sadly, that's what most of us do."
Findley adds, "When someone needs care, their ability to make decisions on their own can change in a heartbeat due to illness or injury. It’s important to discuss that possibility and take the necessary steps to ensure that your loved one’s wishes are well-documented."
She also points out that accessing in-home care isn’t always as easy as making a call to an agency. "Because of COVID-19, Iowa and other states are experiencing health care workforce shortages. This can impact the best-laid plans." The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly increased both the amount and stress of caregiving. A survey from ARCHANGELS® External Site reports more than half of current caregivers would not have identified as such before the pandemic, and 6 in 10 Americans are now worrying about, looking out for, or taking care of someone because of COVID-19.
4 tips you need to know as a caregiver
The following tips can help you be prepared for the role of caregiving, so you can be there for the person in your care without sacrificing your own mental and physical health.
Organize important paperwork
The first step in caring for your loved one is to get his or her affairs in order. Having this information in place can make all the difference in the event of an emergency. To get the process started, the National Institute on Aging External Site has a helpful list of legal, financial, and personal records you’ll want to locate and organize. If possible, take care of this when your loved one is able to make some of their own financial and health care decisions. To complete this step, you may need to get formal permission from the person you are caring for to talk with their lawyer, bank and health care providers in advance. Many also have their own forms that must be signed with your family member’s consent.
Visit the National Institute on Aging's website for even more information on advance care planning External Site and legal and financial planning for people with Alzheimer’s External Site.
Understand health insurance benefits
Often, the caregiver role starts with a health event: a bad fall, a heart attack or a stroke. Sometimes, you may come into the role more gradually, as your loved one is faced with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Either way, it’s helpful to have a firm grasp on health insurance.
Understanding important health insurance terms and the basics of Medicare, if applicable, can help. It may also be helpful to have your loved one locate important health insurance documents, like a coverage manual and ID card. If they are a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member, you can also make sure your family member is registered for myWellmark® Opens New Window. It’s the place to go for personalized health information at your fingertips, such as detailed claims information.
Get help coordinating care
When starting out, it may feel like you don’t need much help. But at some point, it’s possible you will need assistance.
If your loved one needs help with activities like housecleaning, getting dressed or getting in and out of the shower or bath safely, you can hire home health aides through local or private agencies. One resource for finding this help is the Family Caregiver Alliance®’s Family Care Navigator External Site. Click on your state, and then on the arrow for “Services for Care Recipients Living at Home” to start your search.
Local meal delivery programs can help with daily meals, and their volunteer drivers can be valuable social contacts for folks living on their own. Meals on Wheels America External Site can help you find a nearby program. For those who can still get out and about, the local senior center might also host regular meal gatherings, providing good food and plenty of socialization. Of course, this type of activity may be limited due to COVID-19 precautions, but as older populations become vaccinated, this type of meal offering may be more readily available.
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia often involves a team of people. Whether you provide daily caregiving, participate in decision-making, or simply care about a person with the disease — there are resources to help. To learn what to expect and how to prepare, visit the Alzheimer's Association® website External Site. You can also find resources for caregivers from the Family Caregiving Alliance® External Site.
Take care of yourself
Caregiving can be an emotional rollercoaster. The added pressures can contribute to health problems. A recent report from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) Health of AmericaSM series shows that caregivers have 26 percent poorer health External Site compared to the benchmark population, mostly due to the stress and pressure the role causes. Caregivers are also less likely to eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, find time for physical activity, see the doctor when needed or care for themselves properly when they are sick. Family caregivers are also at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
You can only care for a loved one if you are looking after yourself. Find helpful tips for how to reduce and manage stress, create boundaries, and ask for and accept help using this information External Site from the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Bonus tip! Try virtual care
If it's not possible to see a doctor in person but you or your loved one needs care, a virtual visit may be able to help. It allows you or your loved one to stay put at home while seeing a doctor face-to-face via a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Virtual doctors can treat many common medical conditions and prescribe medication, if needed. To see if you or your loved one has coverage, log in to myWellmark Secure. Even if the health plan doesn't cover virtual visits, an appointment via Wellmark's preferred virtual visit provider, Doctor On Demand® External Link may still be a cheaper option than an urgent care or non-emergent ER visit. As always, if you are experiencing an emergency Opens New Window, do not hesitate to go to the ER.
Try our health advocacy service: BeWell 24/7SM
If you are a Wellmark member and caring for a loved one, BeWell 24/7 can help. Our health advocacy service can help take some of the stress and hassle out of the process. Call BeWell at Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well to get help from a health advocate for health care issues and tasks like:
- Scheduling diagnostic tests or specialist appointments
- Coordinating care
- Locating home-care services
Looking for more resources?
Whatever kind of help your loved one needs, help may be available in your community. You can get more information from your local Area Agency on Aging External Site. Here are some other options to get the help you need to care for your loved one:
- Eldercare Locator External Site, 800-677-1116 (toll-free)
- Family Care Navigator External Site, 800-445-8106 (toll-free)
- Family Caregiver Alliance External Site
Doctor On Demand physicians do not prescribe Drug Enforcement Administration-controlled substances, and may elect not to treat conditions or prescribe other medications based on what is clinically appropriate.
For plans that include benefits for mental health treatment, Doctor On Demand benefits may include treatment for certain psychological conditions, emotional issues and chemical dependency. Services performed by Doctor On Demand psychologists are covered. For more information, call Wellmark at the number on your ID card.
Doctor On Demand by Included Health is a separate company providing an online telehealth solution for Wellmark members. Doctor On Demand® is a registered mark of Doctor On Demand, Inc.