Over the years I have seen many different family caregivers, each handling their situation in their own unique way. Yet, over those years, what has emerged are a few distinct Caregiver Styles that caregivers fit into. Just as there are different personality types, leadership styles or parenting styles – there are different Caregiver Styles.
I use the analogy of landscaping to help describe Caregiver Style. There is no wrong or right way to do your landscaping – some people, whether by circumstance or desire, are Do it yourselfers. They may take a couple of years to get it right, but they design the yard, install the sprinkler system and plant every single tree, bush and flower. On the other end is the Delegator – they want to walk out their back door to sit down and enjoy the yard. They are happy to pay someone to design it, install it, plant it and take care of it on an ongoing basis. And there are countless combinations in between – plan it yourself, and oversee someone else doing it; hire a designer and irrigation system installer and do all the planting yourself – I think you see my point – there’s no one way, no right way – there is just the way that works best for you and your life at that time. It is much the same in your role as a family caregiver.
There are many factors that determine your Caregiver style including circumstance, attitude, desire, availability, lifestyle, physical health and proximity to the care recipient.
Knowing your Caregiver style will help you make better decisions, learn the best way to incorporate self-care into your role, understand what resources work best with your Caregiver Style, and get you pointed in the right direction. It is possible that you may have a combination of styles, or that your Caregiver Style may shift into a different style over time. Some caregivers may realize that their style is no longer working well in their situation and may choose to learn the skills they need to shift into a different style.
The Do it yourselfer provides most of the care that is needed on a daily basis. They may have a support system in place and even someone to relieve them on occasion, but they are the primary caregiver – whether they live with the person or far away from the person they care for. The do-it-yourselfer is very independent, reliable, and responsible. While their natural inclination is to take on more themselves rather than ask for help, do-it-yourselfers make a great caregiver when they learn to balance their caregiving role with their own personal needs and recognize when to bring in additional support.
The Share Care caregiver usually works in harmony with at least one other caregiver. Perhaps siblings share the care for a parent by having that parent live with them for a month or two at a time, or perhaps the siblings share time coming to the home of the parent to provide care. This arrangement works well when families are in harmony and close enough proximity to manage this shared care. The advantage to each caregiver is that they are able to contribute without a high probability of caregiver burnout because they have built in breaks from the caregiving role.
The Coordinator caregiver has taken on the role of managing and organizing the care that is primarily being provided by either additional family members, or paid care providers. This can still be a significant role even if none of the care is being provided directly by the Coordinator. The Coordinator caregiver gathers information on an ongoing basis in order to stay informed so they can make positive decisions regarding their loved one. They are usually a good researcher, organizer and communicator and able to multi-task. Keeping the details and getting new information as it presents itself is critical to this role.
The Collaborator caregiver is providing some of the care themselves, along with other family members, paid providers and other community members. While it can feel a bit overwhelming at times, this caregiver has a wealth of resources involved in the care which often means that there is more room for self-care. The Collaborator often also holds some of the responsibilities of a Coordinator helping to maintain effective communication among the various people involved in the care.
The Delegator caregiver hires others to oversee and/or provide the care for their loved one. This may be through a long term care facility, full or part- time home care agency, adult day program or a Care Manager in combination with the others. The advantage of this approach is that it frees up the person to be the son, daughter or spouse when they are with their loved one--rather than the caregiver. Depending on the history of the caregiving experience and the nature of the caregiving needs, the Delegator may struggle with doubts and guilt from time to time, wondering if they need to be more hands-on with their loved one's care. Regular and open communication with the nursing home/professional care provider can help alleviate some of these concerns.
To learn what your Caregiver Style is and how to apply your style to your current situation, take the Free What’s your Caregiver Style Assessment.