When I receive a phone call from a potential client they are usually at the end of their rope. They have no idea where to turn or who to turn to. Life can sometimes, very unexpectantly, slap us in our face to get our attention. This is usually the state of mind of the people calling for help. They don’t know where to turn and they are in a panic. Taking a deep breath and not letting fear control you is the first step. Then sitting back and creating a plan is the next step. When my kids come to me anxiety stricken with a large project or problem I first sit them down and listen carefully. Then I explain to them that the anxiety they are experiencing is pure fear. Fear that they can not accomplish what they need to accomplish or fear of the unknown. This is why the first step should always be to draw your map and make a plan. Once you see that plan you already feel the weight lifting because you have conquered one of the hardest parts, accepting that there is a problem; but more importantly, seeing a map of how to accomplish your ultimate goal, which in this case would be making sure that your loved one is taken care of and comfortable. Once you accept that there is a problem and draw that map or plan and you see it can be accomplished then breathing becomes a little easier.
“So, I hear you have a problem you can’t handle on your own.” This is what my parents told me one day when I had a serious problem as a teenager. At the time I felt helpless and that the weight of the world was coming down on me. However, when these words were spoken to me I knew I was no longer solo but, instead had a support group. I cried pure tears of joy because knowing I had a support system was significant. Now, it’s my turn to look at my aging parents and tell them, “I see you have a problem you can’t handle on your own.” Let’s discuss how to conquer this giant problem, lay out our map, and get a support group.
Talking is the First Step
No better time than the present. Waiting until an emergency situation is putting out a blazing fire, extremely chaotic, panick stricken and stressful. Preventative planning is the name of the game.
- Getting the convo started: Bring it up subtly. So, you tell me you have been dizzy lately?
- Don’t give up so easy: Some people just don’t want to admit they need help. Don’t give up, rather, ask a sibling or a doctor or a friend to have a conversation with them.
- Ugh, money, do we have to talk about it: Let’s face it, this is usually the driving force. To know exactly what they can afford and what kind of insurance they have is very important.
- Respecting your loved ones: Your loved one has taken care of themselves for many years at this point. Thinking you will walk in and tell them how everything will go down is a big mistake. Every human has a basic need for independence. Learning to give them that independence yet taking control is a fine line that MUST be mastered.
- Call in the troops: Once the conversation has been brought to light now is a good time to call in back up. Bring in siblings, friends, senior resources, etc. to help in any way.
The Web of Care
Don’t go it alone. Trying to handle the responsibilities of caregiving yourself can lead to burnout and stress-related health problems. It’s important to reach out to form a larger network of friends, family and community resources that can help you. Remember to consider your loved one part of the team.
- Go deep and wide: Team members need not all live nearby or have huge blocks of time to be of value. Family or friends living at a distance with limited schedules can pitch in with meal organizing, bill paying, or financial assistance. The computer whiz in the family could set up an electronic calendar for dinner delivery or chores.
- Decide who’s in charge: It’s important to have a point person to keep the process moving and make sure everyone on the team understands the plan and priorities. In most families, one person assumes the primary role because he or she lives nearby, has a close relationship, or simply is a take-charge person. That may be you.
- Consider a mediator: It can be useful to engage an unrelated facilitator, such as a social worker or minister, to help keep everyone focused, manage potential disagreements and communicate difficult subjects when meeting with your team.
Make a Plan
Now it’s time to work with your team to develop a plan, thinking both short term—such as determining who will be responsible for each caregiving task—and long term. You can’t anticipate every detail or scenario, but being forward-thinking now will help you respond more quickly and effectively in an emergency. It also helps assure that everyone keeps the focus on what’s best for your loved one.
- Determine roles: Ask your caregiving team members about what tasks they can and are willing to take on while considering key points. Who is free to travel to medical appointments? Who can prepare meals a few times a week? Who can be responsible for bill paying? If you’re the primary caregiver, delegating even small tasks can make a big difference in your busy schedule.
- Be honest with yourself: What are you prepared to do? If you are uncomfortable with hands-on caregiving tasks, such as helping a loved one bathe, ask if another team member can step in. Or discuss whether there is money available to hire assistance.
- Summarize the plan in writing: A written record will assure that everyone is on the same page and avoid misunderstandings (while remembering, of course, that the plan will likely change as time passes).
- Find the best way to communicate: You may want to set up an email group to keep everyone up to date. And consider using an online scheduling tool such as lotsahelpinghands.com to organize and stay current on who’s doing what, when.
Care for Your Loved One
This step encompasses the others, of course, and every caregiver’s situation is different. But there is a wide range of resources and tools that can make your job easier, whether you’re caring for a parent from another state, a spouse with a long-term illness or a family member with dementia. In any caregiving situation, it’s important to know where to get information and assistance.
- Advocate for yourself: Let the doctor know that you are the primary caregiver and need to be informed about your loved one’s condition and the treatments prescribed. Ask for training if you are expected to do procedures you’ve never done at home, such as injecting medication or changing bandages. Juvo Home Care has online resources available to help train family members in these matters.
- Keep the home safe: If the person you’re caring for has more difficulty getting around or their vision or hearing fades, some simple changes can be made to make their home less hazardous. Consider installing things like handrails, grab bars, nightlights, and adjustable shower seats. Juvo Home Care will go into clients homes and do a free assessment on safety around the house as well as what devices the client needs to help live as independently as possible and help keep the aging parent in their homes for as long as possible.
- Stay organized: It can feel overwhelming to try to keep track of all the information involved in caregiving—emergency phone numbers, medical appointments, health records
Care for Yourself
As a family caregiver, it’s easy to forget about your own needs—which is why caregivers are more likely to report high-stress levels and suffer from depression, and other health problems. Don’t neglect exercise, sleep, and healthy eating, and take time for activities you enjoy. You’ll need to keep up your energy and stay well to care for others.
- Understand caregiving’s costs: Your personal finances can take a hit from family caregiving—which might require time off of work, cutting back on hours, or passing up promotions, as well as paying for things like groceries and prescriptions for your loved one from your own pocket. Try to calculate these costs when budgeting.
- Give yourself a break: Sometimes caregivers feel guilty about taking time to have fun. Find ways to reduce your stress and enjoy yourself. Many turn to yoga or meditation or arrange a weekly movie outing with friends. Think about what activities you find relaxing and/or energizing and put them on your to-do list.
- Consider hiring an agency: An agency such as Juvo Home Care will take most of the day to day caregiving tasks from the family members. This enables the parent and their loved ones to spend the remaining days of their lives enjoying each other’s company rather than dealing with the high level of stress that caring for a loved one can cause.