by Heather Quackenboss, Human Development and Relationships Educator, Extension La Crosse County

According to an AARP survey, more than 70 percent of people over 50 plan to “age in place,” or stay in their homes or communities (2014). Rodney Harrell, director of AARP’s Livable Communities program explains, “Across the country, people are getting older, living longer, and staying in their communities.”

Sometimes, as our parents, spouses, partners, children, and friends get older, sick, or need more care as they stay in their own home, apartment, or dwelling, caregiving becomes part of our day, and sometimes our full-time duty.

Unpaid family caregiving is an activity that knows no bounds. Caregiving cuts across all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, and relationship types. Caregiving can be relatively easy to manage or be challenging and stressful. Sometimes caregivers begin by assisting with ADLs (activities of daily living) like helping with basic hygiene and daily activities. Caregiving can also include IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living) which include medical and nursing tasks that health care professionals typically perform.

Caregivers often are the main advocate and communicator for their loved one, and at the same time, can forget about their own care.  There are nearly 40 million Americans providing unpaid care for family members or other adults. Of these caregivers, some are working their own job, are part of the sandwich generation (taking care of their own children and aging family), or have opted to only provide caregiving fulltime. Locally, the ADRC (Aging and Disability Resource Center) at La Crosse County has resources to help support caregivers with resources and training opportunities to plan for future caregiving.

We hear the term self-care and think all kinds of things about it. For caregivers, self-care can feel almost selfish. But, like the air mask rule on the airplane (put your own mask on first before helping others), it is important to take care of ourselves when we are taking care of others. The Family Caregiver Alliance shares these simple steps and strategies for caregivers:

  • Learn about the disease your loved one has. Find out about what is happening now and what will happen in the future with this disease. The more you know, the more you will be able to plan.
  • Use community resources. The more you let these services help you, the less you have to do. There are places to get help:
    • La Crosse County ADRC
    • Transportation
    • Meals Programs
    • Day care programs
    • Support groups
  • Take a break from caregiving. Make a date to go to the movies, take a walk, meet a friend for lunch. Everyone needs to get out of the house once in a while. Do something not related to caregiving.
  • Get support. Attend a support group, have a buddy you can call just to let off steam and complain. Talk to your doctor about it. Sometimes, caregivers experience depression, that is okay, and it is okay to speak to a counselor about it.
  • Practice communication and behavior management skills if you are caring for someone with dementia. This will make your job easier. Learn how to do this by taking a class or researching online. The best communication strategies are often not intuitive. For instance, therapeutic fibbing can be one of the best techniques you can use. A person who lives with dementia may not be living in today, they may be, in their brain, living in a time where their spouse was alive, or when they were taking care of their children. Therapeutic fibbing is letting them live that moment and you going along with what they are talking about. It is okay.
  • Relax. Read a book, meditate, pray, garden, knit, get a massage, take a long bath. Do what relaxes you.
  • Take care of your health. Go to the doctor, get routine exams and flu shots, get enough sleep, and eat your fruits and vegetables.
  • Ask for and accept help when offered. No one can do this alone.
  • Change “guilt” to “regret.” Guilt is you did something wrong, regret is that you are in a difficult situation and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, but they are not wrong.
  • Forgive yourself—often. You cannot be a perfect caregiver, all day, every day.
  • Laugh. Find ways to keep your sense of humor on a daily basis. Watch comedies, practice laughter yoga, share jokes with friends.

For more information:

AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.(Rep.). Retrieved

Family Caregiver Alliance. (n.d.). Caregiver Self-Care: Caring for You. Retrieved January 18, 2019, from

Kirk, M. (2017, October 25). Urbanites Want to Stay Put as They Age. Retrieved from