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The Six Stages of a Caregiver's Journey

Denise M. BrownCaregivers travel a unique and winding road that is sometimes hard to understand unless you have traveled the same route yourself. While it can bring great joy to be able to care for a loved one in need, the journey itself presents distinctive concerns and issues for both the caregiver and the care recipient.

Denise M. Brown, a certified caregiving coach, has been working with caregivers since 1990 in an effort to help make their journeys in that realm meaningful. She founded in 1996 as a comprehensive resource that offers testimonials, resources, education, support groups and facts regarding caregiving. Denise also wrote a handbook called The Caregiving Years: Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey. Part of this handbook defines the six stages of caregiving Denise has recognized and organized to provide valuable advice and encouragement to those caring for loved ones.

The following is a condensed version of Denise's six steps. In each segment of her handbook, Denise provides a keyword and purpose, along with options to consider. These help ensure you stay on the right track and are able to not only survive your caregiving experience but also cherish the time you are able to give.

Stage 1: The Expectant Caregiver -- In the near future, I may help an aging relative. You and your loved one realize you may soon begin your caregiving role, and you both take steps to prepare for that process. This is the time to get the care recipient's affairs in order -- visit with an attorney to set up necessary processes, consult with doctors and discuss with your loved one the level of care she may need, depending on the situation. Together, you prepare for every possible circumstance.

Stage 2: The Freshman Caregiver -- I am starting to help an aging relative. As this stage evolves, it provides a sneak preview of the future. You may begin by providing meals and running errands. At this time, you should fully educate yourself on all aspects of your loved one's condition and decide how you can help. Join support groups that are specific to the illness with which you are dealing or caregiving in general. Support groups provide a needed outlet and help you learn how to take care of yourself and your care recipient properly.

Stage 3: The Entrenched Caregiver -- I am helping. You are firmly grounded in all aspects of giving care to a loved one, which plays a large part in defining who you are. Your feelings may be bittersweet -- you are glad you can help, but you sometimes wonder "why me?" You are exhausted, physically and mentally. During this stage, re-evaluation is critical, and the main focus should be receiving help from others. Take breaks from responsibilities, so you can rejuvenate and continue on a healthy caregiving path. Establish a routine for both you and your loved one and determine limits of care with which the two of you are comfortable. Accept help from family and friends or hire a respite care provider. Lean heavily on support groups during this time. Sharing your feelings with others will help maintain your focus, as well as your sanity.

Stage 4: The Pragmatic Caregiver -- I am still helping an aging relative. You have been caregiving for quite some time, and your purpose now is to look at yourself and ask, "Who am I?" Allow yourself to forgive your care recipient for past grievances and find ways to add fun to your days by singing songs or other engaging activities and finding humor in your situation. If possible, involve your loved one in helping you determine your goals and dreams and start thinking about your future.

Stage 5: The Transitioning Caregiver -- My role is changing. Your caregiver duties are coming to an end, either because you can no longer adequately care for your loved one, or their remaining time is coming to an end. Allow yourself to mourn and to reflect on the memories you have shared. Openly discussing these feelings with your care recipient now will make performing the final stages of care easier for both of you.

Stage 6: The Godspeed Caregiver -- My caregiving has ended. Your days of caregiving have been over for several years now, and your life is ahead of you. You may choose to become an advocate of caregiving, offering advice, writing about your experience, heading up support groups or merely being the go-to person for other family and friends who may be embarking on caregiving themselves. You are moving forward in your life now and are able to look back on your caregiving years with happy thoughts and sweet memories of the one you cared for.

The caregiver's journey is special -- full of emotional ups-and-downs. Denise's steps give you permission to experience caregiving at its worst and also at its best. Most of all, her words and advice let you know that you will get through it and enjoy your life to its fullest after your caregiving days end.

For the complete handbook, please visit

Brown, Denise M. The Caregiving Years. Accessed 10/8/10 at

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