In my previous blog, I said “I believe there is an answer that helps many” deal with the stress, exhaustion, and health impact of caregiving. During my time as a family caregiver and now as a professional caregiver, I came to realize the role of caregiver is actually two roles: Advocate & Caregiver. From my perspective, Advocate is the primary role while Caregiver is the secondary role.

Advocate is primary, because no one can advocate for our loved ones like we (the family member) can because no one knows them like we do. Caregiver is the secondary role, because others can provide physical care. Stemming from these roles and their prioritization is a decision-making opportunity that requires the acknowledgement that it is not the loved one whose care is priority but, rather, it is the self-care of the caregiver that is priority. Why? How many caregivers whose health is compromised, or worse yet, who are dead make an effective advocate? None, there are none.

The thought process I encourage caregivers to use in deciding the proper care for themselves AND their loved one is this: First, if at all possible, be aware of their loved ones wishes as, hopefully, expressed prior to the onset of health changes. Second, commit to advocating for their loved one according to their best ability. Finally, decide whether they can maintain their emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health while caring for their loved one. If they can, then great, be the advocate and provide their loved one’s physical care. If, however, the realization is that they cannot then providing the physical care for their loved one that maintains the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental health is the answer.

That physical care is what? I don’t know, because I am not that caregiver, nor am I the one that know their loved one best. What I do know is that there are a multitude of options. Options such as enlisting the assistance of other family members when possible, hiring a home health organization, utilizing the services of an adult day care, placing the loved one in a group home, assisted living community, memory care unit, or, perhaps, a long-term care facility.

Careful advocacy in this area does not diminish the importance of the loved one for whom we care. Rather, it acknowledges that the caregiver / advocate is as important as that of the loved one.