Are You Prepared to Be A Caregiver? The 4 Caregiving Stages

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Are you prepared to be a caregiver? The reality is that almost all of is in one of the four caregiving stages.

We don’t like to think about it do we? That our loved one might need a caregiver is not something we talk about but the reality is that 75% of us will either need or become a family caregiver.

Isn’t that astounding?

Most of us have a very glamorous view about our time later in life.

  • Twilight Years
  • Golden Years
  • Best Years of Our Lives
  • or even our Heyday
what stage are you in?

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You never really hear someone say “when I start needing a caregiver”, “when it’s no longer safe for me to be alone”, or “when I can no longer take care of myself”.

Very rarely do you hear a son or daughter imagine life taking care of their elderly parents. Grandparents talk about spoiling their grandkids but no one ever really mentions grandkids taking care of their grandparent as they get older.

This lack of conversation leads to a lack of preparation by both the caregiver and the caree resulting in a lot of overwhelm, anger, bitterness, and confusion.

The Caregiving Stages

When you’re a parent, you determine what stage of parenting you are in by the age of your children. There are Infant parents, Preschool Parents, Elementary Parents, and so on until we become “empty nesters”.

Caregiving is similar to parenting in that it also comes in stages except the stages are marked by the experience of the caregiver.

In parenting and caregiving, knowing what stage you are in helps us make sense of and feel better about the brutal reality that the only constant in either is continuous change.

What are the four caregiving stages?

  • The Impending Caregiver: Those who are aware they will be a caregiver at some point in the future.
  • The Beginning Caregiver: This is when you just start out as a caregiver and are trying to find your footing.
  • The Established Caregiver: When caregiving becomes more routine and you start feeling more confident in your role.
  • The Veteran Caregiver: When your role as a caregiver comes to an end, usually when your loved one passes away.

Some people go as far as to say there are six caregiving stages adding in transitional stages. Those in-between stages are unnecessary because your loved one’s needs and thus your role as a caregiver are continuously evolving. To me, you’re almost constantly in some kind of transition.

What changes, and when you become the Established Caregiver is your ability to adapt, brainstorm solutions, and move forward.

Why is it important to know what stage of caregiver you are in?

I became a caregiver with absolutely no knowledge of what that entailed. Sure, I’ve met other caregivers and I’ve watched them from “the outside” but like many things, you never really understand something until you are part of it.

So, I became a caregiver for my MIL. I’m not sure what I expected but I very quickly became overwhelmed. I’ve frequently described my home in the first two years as a battlefield and anyone who has suddenly become a caregiver knows what I’m talking about.

There are two big reasons knowing what stage you are in (and which one you are headed for) is important:

  1. You are more prepared and can better transition
  2. You find confidence and solid footing in hope rather than overwhelm, bitterness, and despair.

Knowing your caregiving stages makes you more prepared.

When you know what stage of caregiving you are in you are able to act more confidently. I was a secondary caregiver for my MIL alongside my FIL for about four years.

Had I known that I was actually an Impending Caregiver, I would have made myself better prepared.

Instead, I struggled to gain my footing for the first two years as I tried to make sense of what my FIL left behind. My MIL didn’t have a clue what her needs were, who her doctors were, or even why she needed us as caregivers.

Knowing your caregiving stages gives you hope.

When you know you are in the Beginning Caregiver stage you also know you won’t be there forever. Yes, you still feel very overwhelmed by it all but because of the preparation you made as an Impending Caregiver you are able to move quickly through the Beginning Caregiver stage and become the confident Established Caregiver that eases your burden tremendously.

When you are an Established Caregiver, you know you won’t always be a caregiver and that this part of your life will end bringing you relief.

Does that sound harsh?

Caregiving is HARD! It’s stressful. It’s overwhelming no matter what stage you are in. You’re loved one is suffering and you are charged with their safety and quality of life. While you will feel sadness over the loss of your loved one, you will also feel relief that their suffering and your role as caregiver has come to an end.

Caregiving Stages: The Impending Caregiver

The first stage of caregiving occures before your loved one even needs you as their caregiver. This caregiving stage is called the Impending Caregiver.

The Impending Caregiver stage is perhaps the most important of the caregiving stages but it is also the most overlooked. We like to think that our loved ones will never need a caregiver.

Maybe they won’t need you. But, with longer lifespans and better healthcare, we are seeing an increasing number of family caregivers. Yes, your mom might live to be 100 but most of them will need to be cared for at least in the last few years of their life, sometimes much longer.

You can either struggle your way through the Beginning Caregiver Stage where you’re trying to put a good plan together, establish boundaries that are healthy for both of you, and try to find what routines make life easier or you can have that all planned out.

With the plans the Impending Caregiver puts in place, you can move swiftly through the overwhelm of the Beginning Caregiver and onto the confidence of the Established Caregiver.

Caregiving Stages: The Beginning Caregiver

It’s official. Your loved one has gotten to the point that it is unsafe and unhealthy for them to go on alone so you step up to the plate and become their caregiver.

The Beginning Caregiver is the most overwhelming of the caregiving stages. You are trying to establish a good care plan, probably do some role reversal where you become the parent figure, navigate the chaos of adding another adult into your already established and full life, all while doing the (now multiplied!) laundry and cooking three meals a day!

You’re going to feel like you’ve made a horrible mistake. If you’re fortunate enough to have recognized the Impending Caregiver stage you will at least be well on your way toward having a plan.

This stage ends when you finally feel like you’ve found some footing, albeit shaky. The length of this stage depends on you and your ability to adapt to the changes and establish yourself as your loved one’s caregiver.

Caregiving Stages: The Established Caregiver

We’ve passed through the overwhelm of the Beginning Caregiver and into the more confident stage of the Established Caregiver.

Yes, you still experience days where you’re overwhelmed with the magnitude of your role but those days are fewer. You still struggle some days to remember why you thought being your loved one’s caregiver was a good idea but you are experienced enough to know that tomorrow will look better.

You have plans in place and are experienced in the daily adaptation that comes with being a caregiver. You can advocate confidently on your loved one’s behalf, are knowledgable in you loved one’s needs, and have strategies in place for your loved one’s more difficult habits.

The Established Caregiver is a confident caregiver. Your role continues to evolve as your loved one moves into different stages of their needs but the chaos these changes cause get less and less life-altering.

Another important aspect of the Established Caregiver stage is you also know how to take care of yourself. You know what burnout feels like and what to do to ward it off. You know how to take breaks and seek respite. You know what refuels you. You are better caregiver because you know how to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy.

Caregiving Stages: The Veteran Caregiver

You’re final caregiving stage is one of loss but also one of rebirth. You’re loved one has passed away and you are now a Veteran Caregiver.

You’re grief is like none other. You’ve poured your life into your loved one. Your life has been centered around them – their needs, their appointments, their likes and dislikes – you have set yourself aside and become engulfed in your role as a family caregiver.

Now their gone leaving a hole that you just don’t know how to fill. Who you were before becoming a caregiver is a distant memory. You don’t even know who you are anymore.

As a Veteran Caregiver, now is a time of rediscovery. Find out who you are, discover what you enjoy, experience new things, and find your new normal.

Allow yourself to breathe. Allow yourself to grieve. Don’t rush too quickly to fill the void.

What the caregiving stages can do for you

Caregiving changes you forever.

  • You will experience emotions you never thought you would experience.
  • You will be required to do things you never thought you would have to do.
  • You will feel an overwhelm that you never thought possible.

How you come out of it depends on you. It can be the most traumatic experience of your life, breaking you as a person and leaving you as an empty shell on the other side.

Or it can be the most extraordinary experience of your life. You will be transformed; becoming a strong, confident, unbreakable person of character.

Knowing your caregiving stages turns this intimidating, overwhelming, chaotic role into something manageable. It gives you confidence in whatever stage you are in while setting the foundation for the future caregiving stages. It gives you hope.

Most of all it allows you to grow through each stage. Instead of wearing you down and feeling stuck in a continuous limbo, you are built up as you climb the pyramid of the caregiving stages.

No, you’re not going to be the same person you were when you started. But that’s ok.

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