Over the past two years, I have been learning to balance the role of a family caregiver. As the sole living relative to my grandmother, who was an only child (like myself), the responsibility of her care falls completely on me.While it is true that there are many demands and stresses caused by caregiving, I find that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
Most of these are from my own personal experience, but there is research that shows that being a family caregiver, especially a grandchild who is providing care, can be beneficial.
Top 10 Reasons Caregiving is Good for You
1. Caregiving helps you save money.
I realize that this is not the case for everyone, but as a single young adult, becoming responsible for my aging loved one has helped me straighten out my finances big time. Here’s why:
- I’ve been too busy providing care to go out and throw away money or sit around worrying about the things I don’t have.
- Taking care of someone who needs care shows you the true value of things.
- When you spend time hanging out with the older generation, you will find that you start adopting their thrifty habits. My grandma was born immediately after the Great Depression. Her parents grew their own food. Hell, my grandma even made her own clothes up until the 1990s. You really learn what you can live without, the difference between what you need and what you want.
2. Caregiving keeps you out of trouble.
I’m not gonna lie, before my grandma had a major health event that resulted in her needing extra help at home, I was pretty wild. Taking care of my grandma has helped me calm down a lot.
There is nothing for your sobriety like knowing Medical Alert might call you at 11:30 at night or 3:30 in the morning.
I don’t have time for dating so all that drama got cut from my life QUICK.
I’m even going to church on Sundays (granted, I’m taking her…. But you get the picture)!
3. Caregiving teaches you new skills.
Since I’ve been helping my grandma, I have learned more about time management, care coordination, navigating health care, ostomy care, cooking and meal planning, nutrition, advocacy, and the list goes on and on. The things I have learned while caring for my grandma will help me in my own life, and I can use my experiences to help others.
4. Caregiving improves cognitive and physical abilities.
New York Times Article outlining the hidden benefits of caregiving, a study of 900 female caregivers showed that, “caregivers did significantly better on memory tests than did non-caregivers followed over two years” (Span 2011).
When you are providing care for an aging loved one, you have to keep on top of medications, appointments, nutrition needs, medical supplies, home maintenance, finances, care schedules, and social activities. After caring for someone for a while, you will find yourself recalling information more easily.
In that same article, a study reported that caregivers “maintained stronger physical performance than non-caregivers. On tests like walking pace, grip strength and the speed with which they could rise from a chair, the high-intensity group declined less than lower-intensity caregivers or non-caregivers over two years” (Span 2011).
There is nothing like providing support to a person who is a fall risk for strengthening your reflexes. When you are constantly thinking about preventing falls, your mind operates on a new plane where any wrong move could result in a broken hip or a back injury, which causes you to develop lightning fast reflexes, a Strong Man grip, and superhuman speed.
5. Caregiving is a symbiotic relationship.
Caregiving is not a one-way street. The person who is in need of care is not the one who always is the beneficiary of caregiving. People who require care also have a lot to give. In a study of 17 grandchildren who were family caregivers, the people surveyed reported “a sense of self, spending time together, learning about life, and emotional and financial compensation” as the benefits they enjoyed through their caregiving role (Fruhauf 902).
We all spend a lot of time with our grandparents and come to appreciate them for all they do for us as we are growing up. But spending time with my grandma as an adult has been a completely different experience. It is like getting to know each other all over again. There is a lot that you don’t see or can’t understand as a child.
While I have always known that my grandma loves and cares for me, since our roles have reversed my grandma is appreciative and thankful for my help, which brings a new element to our relationship and makes me feel good. So there is an emotional gain for me in caregiving that I would not otherwise be experiencing.
6. Caregiving teaches you patience.
When you are taking care of someone who is older than you and moves slower than you, both mentally and physically, you quickly learn how to adjust your pace. If you are responsible for someone who has memory problems, you get used to repeating things often and not getting frustrated when they don’t remember.
7. Caregiving enhances your relationships with people.
Seeing how valuable spending time with one another can be will make you want to spend more time with and do things for other people you love and care about. Since I have been taking care of my grandma, I have been calling and checking on my family members more often and stopping and taking a few minutes to send them a handwritten note.
8. Caregiving teaches you compassion.
When you assume a caregiving role, you will find yourself interacting differently with people. You will be less irritated by that lady taking forever in the drive-up banking or the couple walking slow out of the grocery store. You might start smiling more and making small talk with people in the checkout line. You might even finding yourself wanting to give more of your time and wanting to help more people.
9. Caregiving forces you to focus on what’s most important.
Before I began taking care of my grandma, my priorities were way out of whack. My spending was out of control, my personal choices weren’t necessarily positive, and I had a lot of free time on my hands that ultimately ended up getting me in trouble. Now, I have to make sure I handle my business so I can fulfill my caregiving responsibilities. It really has eliminated a lot of the extra drama and stress out of my life and help me appreciate the people around me and the experiences we sometimes take for granted.
10. Caregiving can make you feel good knowing you’re doing the right thing.
There is a moral imperative to caregiving. Who would I be put my life before someone who has sacrificed her needs, health, and heart to make sure that I was healthy and loved and had everything I needed? Even if all your grandparents did was make your own human life possible, that should be enough!
Besides the fact that you wouldn’t exist without your grandparents, there is the basic human right of living in their own homes and communities. Even the federal government acknowledges that helping older Americans age in place and stay at home is best practice and the best long-term care solution for our country. But people out there will try and tell you that your loved one would be better off somewhere “where they can be taken care of.”
Don’t ever let anyone tell you your loved one can be cared for better anywhere other than their home. There are always ways of keeping them safe at home, no matter your budget or whatever level of support they have currently.
Putting your loved one in a home won’t keep them safe. It won’t keep them from falling. People fall in nursing homes all the time. Nursing homes don’t provide the nurturing, caring environments they show in senior living magazines. Would you rather have a bracelet on your body at home where you are comfortable, or pray you’re close enough to the call light when you’re cooped up in your little room, where you spend 75% of your day?
If I had dumped my grandma in a nursing home when the going got tough like the people at her church were telling me I should, my grandma could be gone by now. However, I can lay my head on my pillow and sleep at night knowing that I am doing the right thing, which has to be a better feeling than anything I would be doing right now if I had washed my hands clean of the responsibility of providing her care.
- Fruhauf, Christine A. and Jarrott, Shannon E., Allen, Katherine R. (2006). Grandchildren’s Perceptions of Caring for Grandparents. Journal of Family Issues, 27(7), 887-911.
- Span, Paula. (2011). Caregiving’s Hidden Benefits. New York Times. https://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/12/caregivings-hidden-benefits/?_r=1
Your experiences as a caregiver can help someone going through a similar situation. Caregiving can be tough, and there are times where you feel all alone, but if you look around, there are many people going through what you are going through. Whether you are in a waiting room at the hospital, walking by them as they visit their loved one in a skilled nursing facility, or posting on a message board, you can help others through your experiences. If you find yourself wanting to share the things you’ve learned with others, I encourage you to seek out your local Area Agency on Aging or senior center to connect with a caregiver support group or peer mentoring program.