Becoming a caregiver for a family member can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience. And providing in-home care offers peace of mind that your loved one is being looked after properly and allows them to live independently as long as possible. However, there are many practical things to consider before you commit to becoming a family caregiver. We’ve created this guide to help you understand what you need to know going into this type of arrangement. 

How to become a caregiver for a family member

A volunteer family caregiver does not need to have a degree or license. If you want to be a medical caregiver, then college training and certification are required. To become a caregiver for a family member, they just need to be willing to accept your help. That being said, there are many things to consider when taking on this responsibility. 

Here are some things you may want to address before becoming a caregiver:

  • Assess your finances: Does your loved one, or another family member, have financial resources to pay for the things you buy on their behalf? Will you need to be a full-time caregiver, or can you still work a paying job? 
  • Talk to the care recipient’s doctor: Get a current diagnosis, and learn what you need to know to take care of their health. You may want to take basic care classes such as CPR or learn skills specific to any health concerns or diseases they have. 
  • Understand their medical benefits: Know what doctors and procedures are covered, and the cost of co-pays
  • Learn proper ways to help: If you have to help them in and out of bed or chairs, work with a physical therapist or another specialist who can show you how to do this so you don’t hurt yourself.
  • Complete legal paperwork: This may include healthcare directives and end-of-life documents
  • Make a communication plan: Talk to other family members about how you’ll keep them informed and updated.
  • Prepare yourself mentally: The role-reversal aspect of taking care of someone who used to take care of you can be challenging for both the caregiver and the care recipient. 

What does a caregiver do?

A caregiver may perform a variety of tasks depending on the needs and abilities of the person they are helping. Some common tasks may include:

  • Running errands
  • Cooking and cleaning
  • Driving them to appointments
  • Helping them to bathe and get dressed
  • Setting reminders to take their medications
  • Handling finances 
  • Advocating for them with doctors, insurance companies, or social service systems
  • Making sure their home is safe and accessible
  • Helping them complete their end-of-life planning checklist
  • Providing companionship

How to get paid to be a caregiver 

According to AARP, family caregivers spend an average of 26% of their income on caregiving activities. When it comes to whether or not you can get paid to be a family caregiver, the answer is: it depends. There are ways to get paid or receive help to offset the costs of caregiving, but only if you qualify. Here are things to know and resources to help:

  • Medicare does not pay for long-term care such as caregivers or nursing homes, so will not help cover any caregiver costs
  • Certain states have programs that will pay family members to provide care for low-income people on Medicaid. One such program is through a partnership with Caregiver Homes
  • The Administration on Aging (AAA) may be able to help with some caregiving costs. Visit eldercare.gov to find your local AAA agency and see what services they offer in your area. 
  • If your loved one is a veteran, the Veteran Directed Care Program allows veterans to manage a budget for their at-home care. You may also see if you qualify for Aid & Attendance Care
  • If you provide more than 50% of the costs of your loved one’s care and support, you may be able to qualify for the dependent care credit tax deduction on your federal taxes. This could equal up to 35% of your qualifying expenses, so be sure to keep detailed records.
  • If your care recipient has the means, they can pay you directly. You’ll want to consult with an elder law attorney to help draw up a personal care agreement that’s fair to both parties. 
  • If your loved one has planned ahead and has long-term care insurance, it may include compensation for caregivers. 
  • Check to see if your job offers paid leave for caregivers. It may be for a finite amount of time but could be helpful as you make a long-term plan. 
  • The Family Caregiver Alliance has a wonderful tool to find programs in your state. Select your state from the drop-down and click the Caregiver Compensation section for programs near you. 

Tips for caregivers

  • While caregiving can be rewarding, it can also be stressful, time-consuming, and take a physical and mental toll. Not only is it emotionally painful to witness a loved one’s health deteriorate, but caregivers might find themselves too exhausted and stressed to take proper care of themselves. Caregivers need to be mindful of their own well-being in order to not burn out. Here are some tips to help:
  • Set boundaries regarding what your duties are, and what times you are available to do them.
  • Have an open discussion with your family about financial resources, such as reimbursing some of your expenses and planning ahead, in case it becomes necessary to move your loved one into an assisted living or nursing home.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Assign tasks to other family members or friends when you are feeling overwhelmed or have time constraints — you may be surprised at how willing people are to help when you just ask. 
  • Prioritize your health. Make time to exercise, eat nutritious meals, and get plenty of sleep. You can’t be helpful if you’re unwell. 
  • Take advantage of resources designed to help the elderly or disabled. The Family Caregiver Alliance has a wealth of resources that may help you find the assistance you need.
  • Seek emotional support. Look for a local or online caregiving support group or talk to a therapist. It’s important for your mental health to have someone empathetic and impartial to talk to about the stress caregiving may cause. 

Caregiving can be challenging, so give yourself a break when you need it, and be kind to yourself if your feelings are not always positive. Take care of yourself so you can continue to be the best family caregiver you can be.