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Caregiving is a unique journey that few understand who have not experienced it themselves. It’s an emotional roller coaster full of highs and lows. While every caregiver will experience a unique path, each will follow a similar trajectory through the stages of caregiving. By understanding the 5 common stages of caregiving, you can have a better idea of what to expect as you transition through them yourself. In this article, we will explain the five stages of caregiving and the emotions you may experience in each stage.

Stage 1: Expectant Caregiver

The first stage of caregiving is the expectant or anticipatory caregiver. In this stage, you’re not yet a caregiver but may recognize that the need is coming. Whether that’s due to advancing age, declining health, etc. you recognize that you may become a caregiver sooner or later in order to help your loved one maintain independence as long as possible.

Expectant Caregiver Emotions

In this phase, you may feel a desire to learn and prepare for what’s ahead. You may also start to recognize that it may be difficult to get your loved one to agree to accept help. You may also feel worried about their health or for the future in general.

At this stage, you may want to start learning about:

  • The expected changes that come with aging or their specific ailment
  • Making arrangements for the future such as financial planning, arranging advanced directives, organizing a will and/or a living will, etc. 
  • Reviewing insurance policies
  • Legal preparations, such as a power of attorney
  • Etc.

Stage 2: Freshman Caregiver

Stage 2 is when you start providing help to your loved one. You may start by taking on a few tasks like providing meals, running errands, accompanying your loved one to doctor’s appointments, etc. During stage 2, it’s important to continue your education about both any diagnoses your loved one is experiencing and the resources available to help you as the demands for care grow.

Freshman Caregiver Emotions

Stage two is when it starts to feel real. It can be an overwhelming experience to start helping your parents or another loved one with basic needs they would have previously handled themselves. This is a potentially stressful transition as you learn how to balance new tasks with your existing life outside of care.

At this stage, it’s important to coordinate with the rest of your family to decide what tasks are needed, how these tasks will be distributed, and what the procedure should be in the event of an emergency. You will also experience a lot of overwhelming questions and fears related to handling tasks you don’t necessarily feel prepared to handle. Talk to your loved one’s team of doctors whenever you need help or have questions.

Stage 3: Entrenched Caregiver

Stage 3 of caregiving is characterized by being in a full swing of caregiving. You have created routines, have fewer questions, and may feel a level of constant stress. This is the stage where you may start to notice that your own health is declining due to the stress of prolonged care. Most caregivers spend a few years in this stage.

Entrenched Caregiver Emotions

In stage three, you may start to feel angry or resentful, frustrated about the situation, guilty about feeling anger, resentment or frustration, anxiety may start to settle in, or a sense of depression and burnout may loom over you.

In this stage, it’s important to evaluate how you’re feeling and look to redistribute the workload or find outside help for yourself.

Step 4: Transitioning Caregiver

Stage four of caregiving is characterized by realizing that the need for your care may be coming to an end. This may be due to recognizing that your loved ones’ needs have advanced beyond your ability to meet them, because your loved one no longer needs help, or because you sense a pending loss.

Transitioning Caregiver Emotions

In stage 4, regardless of the reason you find yourself here, you will likely experience a sense of loss or anticipatory grief. Your role is changing, which can create a whole range of emotions. This stage is difficult and can be painful for everyone involved.

In this stage, self-care needs to become an even bigger priority than it was before. It’s time to start looking for assisted living facilities, full-time live-in care, a geriatric psychiatrist, a support group, etc.

Note: It’s important that you don’t try to make it through this stage alone, reach out to a loved one or professional when you need help coping.

Stage 5: No Longer a Caregiver

In stage five, your caregiving journey has come to an end. You may enter a period of mourning and exhaustion beyond what you thought possible. It’s important to let yourself grieve so that you can accept what has happened and move on with the rest of your life ahead. 

No Longer a Caregiver Emotions

This stage may come with grief, loss, heaviness, and may feel strangely juxtaposed with relief, rest, and a feeling of ease. There’s no right or wrong way to feel in stage five of caregiving. All emotions are valid.

Note: It’s important that you don’t try to make it through this stage alone, reach out to a loved one or professional when you need help coping.

Closing Thoughts

I​​f you provide regular care to your loved one, we at CRC are here for you. As a caregiver, you’re faced with new challenges every day. The California Caregiver Resource Centers were created with you both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, which can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer your questions, and explain how they can best support you.

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