Five key steps to help you navigate your caregiving journey

According to AARP, nearly 44 million Americans, or one in five adults, are caregivers for a relative or friend over age 50. There are an estimated three million LGBTQ adults 50+. The population is twice as likely to be single and four times less likely to have children than their straight counterparts.

Caring for a spouse, partner, close friend, or chosen family member can be a positive experience for many reasons: to “give back,” to mend a broken or distant relationship, to “pass it on,” or foster conversations between generations.

Here are steps to help support you and your chosen family member…

1. Start a conversation

Caregiving can be a great opportunity for your loved one or friend to share their story with you and in the process, build trust and reveal themselves authentically. If you see a loved one who’s struggling in some way, you can ask him or her if they would feel comfortable sharing their challenges with you. Maybe it’s a health issue they’re avoiding or a confusing financial situation. Asking may reveal a simple problem you can help address easily, or it may uncover a more complex issue left unattended that requires immediate attention. In either scenario, talking about it is a step in the right direction and establishes trust moving forward.

2. Make a plan

A conversation about one issue can lead to a broader discussion about someone’s future care and along with that, a plan to make it happen. A goal can be important at any stage in life; a plan to get there is especially relevant for older individuals, providing clear expectations and, ultimately, peace of mind. It’s also an opportunity to build on the trust you’ve already established. If you don’t have a legal relationship with someone you’re caring for, this may be the time to obtain one to execute a care plan. Advance directives, like a health care proxy or living will, are an important part of the process, as are a “release of information” (ROI) and a “do not resuscitate” (DNR) directive.

3. It takes a village

Sometimes it takes a village to provide everything required for a loved one’s care, and that can be an opportunity for others to “give back” and “pass it on,” as well. Rather than go it alone, look to friends and family members for help, and get familiar with your loved one’s associations with friend groups, clubs, and religious organizations who can pitch in. Hiring outside help can be part of a caregiving plan, too. AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center can assist in locating professionals suited to your situation. Once you’ve established a team, stay in touch and make sure your loved one is living their best life every step of the way.

4. Find support

LGBTQ adults don’t receive the same level of benefits and services as their straight peers do. A recent study revealed that older community members might not access resources like healthcare programs, senior centers, retirement benefits, and housing assistance due to historical fears of discrimination. You can help alleviate that disparity by accessing benefits for your loved one that are universally available but underutilized. The Eldercare Locator provides a picture of services offered in your community and check out SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) for their network of local resource and service affiliates in 30 locations in 20 states across the country. AARP also boasts a state-by-state locator. Community support groups exist for just these situations, and they take pride in their mission to make aging gracefully a reality.

5. Care for yourself

While caregiving for a loved one is essential to maintaining dignity and quality of life, giving back can also be challenging for those tasked with the opportunity. Sometimes you’ll just be exhausted; at other times, upset about the time it takes to do the job right. Caregiving can even be a trigger: If you lost loved ones during the AIDS epidemic or in other traumatic instances, you might experience uncomfortable emotions. Don’t give up hope. Know that your support will be rewarded with your loved one’s comfort and peace of mind, now and in the future.

AARP provides LGBTQ caregiving guides and advice and encourages you to reach out for support as you support others.