“The man who lives for himself is a failure. Even if he gains much wealth, position or fortune, he is still a failure. The man who lives for others is a true success.”–Norman Vincent Peale

No, you aren’t going to make a fortune caregiving. The true fortune that hides in caregiving is not monetary. It is the personal growth that comes out of the experience. Caregiving opens new doors, builds new skills, and deepens relationships. You can come out of caregiving much richer than when you started.

Caregiving Gains: Psychological Benefits

Caregiving strain gets a lot of mention in articles, but until recently there was little focus on gains. It’s time to reframe the caregiving conversation. Researchers who’ve long talked about “caregiver burden” have now discovered many “caregiving gains”.

A 2014 study by the National Opinion Research Center found that 83% of caregivers viewed it as a positive experience.

Positive caregiving experiences included: a sense of giving back to someone who’d cared for them, personal growth, increased sense of purpose, and satisfaction knowing their loved one is getting quality care.

In another study, 67% of caregivers report substantial positive aspects and little/no negative aspects (62.5%). Benefits listed include: greater confidence in abilities, learning to deal with difficult situations and a feeling of satisfaction with the care provided.

Caregivers caring for a relative after a stroke reported a greater appreciation for life, more confidence, and strengthened relationships. When we provide help to someone we care about, we feel more positive emotions, like compassion, satisfaction and a vicarious happiness at being able to help.

Relationship/Familial Benefits

Though caregiving has been known to strain some family relationships, it also brings many families closer. Many caregivers in these studies cited stronger family relationships as a benefit. This can include caregiver and care recipient deepening their bonds or other family members working together. Siblings might create new bonds over the caregiving experience. Supportive spouses might see new sides of each other.

Children benefit from being closer to grandparents. Some caregivers feel that they are passing on a tradition of care. By modeling caregiving, their children might be more likely care for them if necessary.

A Caregiver’s Story:

Dad developed dementia. I was an only child and Mom was dead. My father had never been a very pleasant man. He didn’t show affection and was very strict. I don’t remember him ever saying he loved me or my Mom. I was a bit reluctant to start caregiving, but it felt like my duty.

Dad came to live with me, my husband, and daughter. While there were challenges, the experience was 99% positive. Dad was thankful and loving. It might have been his dementia, but it gave me the opportunity to experience a different side of him. It was the first time my daughter really spent any time with him. They became very close.

We had help. I wanted to enjoy time with my father while we still could. We brought in caregivers to help with bathing and grooming. We had a great care team. In the early stages, we met with a care manager and had a family meeting. Because we established open communication, the experience actually brought me closer to my husband. I think I would have been worn down trying to do it all alone, but it felt great to work together and take care of Dad. It’s an experience I would never give up.

Can Caregiving Actually Improve Health?

We know caregiver strain can have a negative impact on health. However, it turns out that the caregiving experience can also have health benefits. 

The average caregiver is on his or her feet most of the day. The daily caregiving activities of bathing, dressing and moving a loved one/equipment can build strength and stamina. These activities, done on a consistent basis, help improve the caregiver’s physical health. Make sure you know proper techniques for lifting and transferring. Get regular checkups to be sure you can safely handle the demands. And, get help when needed. When approached right, caregiving can be a strengthening experience.

Tips to Unlock the Fortune in Caregiving

  1. Don’t do it alone. Build a “care team” with family members, community, and professionals. Social support serves as a buffer for caregiving stress. Those with greater social support have a more positive caregiving experience.
  2. Communication is key. As you begin caregiving (or, preferably, before), talk about expectations and options. Discuss with family members. Plan a family meeting with a care manager. It helps to have a neutral (and experienced) party’s guidance.
  3. Deal with resentments and emotions early. If you have a complicated history, talk to a professional before delving into the complexities of caregiving. When you feel resentments building or are struggling, consider a support group. Schedule a regular check-in session with a counselor or care manager.
  4. Preserve your role as son, daughter, spouse, parent. Allow yourself to enjoy the moment. To do so, bring in help with some tasks. Many families find personal care assistance invaluable. You can maintain healthy boundaries this way. And, caregivers trained in lifting and transferring know how to avoid injuries. They can model techniques for you to use as well. Protect your health for the long-term good of your care recipient.
  5. Use respite care for a refresh. You’re a better caregiver when you can get a break. You need to take care of your own health and happiness. Respite helps maintain a positive outlook when caregiving. Without a break, you’re more likely to feel the strains, not the gains.

Ready to tap into the caregiving fortune?

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