Caregiving is exhausting, both physically and emotionally, as well as time-consuming. That means that caregivers need–and should take advantage of–all the help and support they can get.
It helps to have someone else check in on your parents periodically to assess their living situation. You need to recognize that your parents may not be totally open about any problems they have, perhaps because they don’t want to worry you or maybe because they don’t recognize the problems themselves (denial).
Maybe you can get friends and neighbors to do this, or find help through the Institute on Aging.
Another option is to hire a certified geriatric care manager, if you can afford one, to serve as your “boots on the ground,” to assess your parent’s needs, suggest options, arrange for medical care and associated services, provide crisis intervention, act as a liaison to families, assist with moving, and provide ongoing care management. Rates vary by geographic region and services and are rarely covered by long-term care insurance. Be sure to check the credentials and references of a potential care manager hire.
The importance of constant communication with members of the caregiving team, both for their feedback and to delegate caregiving tasks, cannot be emphasized enough, and if your parents are viewed as team members, you will get valuable insights into what works, what doesn’t, and what more needs to be done.
Each family and team will have a set of needs that must be addressed and tasks to be assigned, but these should, at the very minimum, include:
- Who will–or can–make regular visits and give updates on your parents’ physical and cognitive status and needs;
- Who is going to cover transport to appointments, or drive to chemotherapy or wound-care treatment centers, dialysis, or other needed medical treatments;
- Who will do the financial oversight (pay bills, reconcile bank accounts, manage investments);
- Who will handle Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance coverage;
- Who will help with legal issues;
- Who can be called upon to handle emergency situations;
- Who will coordinate and monitor the service providers, such as adult day centers, home care agency, day care providers, chore services, transportation services, home health aides, and therapists, to see how things are going;
- Who will handle the lines of communication between family members. Phone or Skype to have family meetings; put up a family blog to keep everyone in touch and to post announcements and updates. Email updates to family members;
- Who can monitor the work done by hired help, a care manager or household help.
You and all team members must be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Some may have full-time obligations–a job, children, physical limitations–while others simply may not want to be drawn into caregiving, recognizing that it is a time-consuming task that may go on for years. You also need to be able to provide backup help where needed and to recognize that someone must be in charge, similar to a conductor leading an orchestra.
Caring for the Caregiver
But you also must recognize that you can’t do it all yourself, and that you, as a caregiver, also need care. Juggling the demands of caregiving and your own life and family takes a toll–not to mention that you, too, are aging, which also may make a difference in your ability to function as caregiver for your parents, no matter how dedicated you are to the task. There are steps you can take to care for yourself, the caregiver:
- Join a support group. It helps to share issues, ideas and issues with others with similar experiences. Even sharing “dark humor” and some of the ridiculous situations that occur provides a release. Your local Area Agency on Aging, senior center, the Family Caregiving Alliance, provides a service for local caregiver support groups. The National Respite Network provides a service that identifies respite services in your area. Parenting Our Parents (POP for short) is an online community of caregivers.
- Maintain your own health. You may think you don’t have time to exercise or go to the doctor, but you must find time. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to help take care of your parents. That also means maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and finding time for moderate activity, even if it’s just a brisk daily walk.
- You also need to maintain your emotional health and not become overwhelmed by your responsibilities. If all this becomes too much, consult a mental health professional. You can also turn to social media for support; Facebook and Twitter (#eldercarechat) are good starting points. Find ways to reduce stress, perhaps by learning to meditate or practice yoga, or pursuing hobbies you find relaxing–gardening, cooking, reading, needlepoint, puzzles–can also help reduce stress.
- Don’t lose touch with friends and the outside world. You need to avoid isolation, which can lead to depression and assorted health problems, all of which will hinder your ability to be an effective caregiver.
And finally, investigate and then make use of all the technology that is now available to ease your caregiving chores and worries. Most people are familiar with the emergency response systems that summon help when someone falls, but these systems grow more sophisticated daily. You can arrange to have your parents’ vital signs checked electronically by their physicians, invest in sensors that tell when people are sleeping and eating, remind a person to take pills, or even help locate a person who has wandered from home. Your physician or a geriatric care manager will guide you as to what is available and might be most beneficial. for your caregiving efforts.