“The number of adults taking care of aging parents has tripled in the past 15 years, and a full 25 percent of grown children are helping their parents by providing either personal care or financial assistance” –Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D., The Huffington Post
Adult caregiving is a paradoxical thing. It can provide an immense sense of fulfillment and can teach the caregiver myriad things about oneself and the nature of aging- a process we all must go through.
But every coin has a flip side. The amount of time caregivers spend actually giving care averages about 24 hours per week, with twenty-five percent surpassing 40 hours. This amount of time spent providing physical, emotional, and/or financial care for an ill or disabled loved one can be exhausting.
Between helping manage medication, assisting with doctors’ visits, and arranging or providing transportation, caregiving is in itself a full-time job.
But fear not! Judson is here to help. If you’re relatively new to caregiving and are unsure where to start, here are a few tips to help you successfully ease into your new role and effectively care for you aging parent.
1) Educate Yourself
Learn as much as you possibly can about the illness or disability afflicting your parent. Doing the initial heavy research will equip you with valuable information to prepare both you and your parent for the future.
Through this research, you may find support groups that could potentially help you to connect with others in your same situation who understand what you are dealing with.
Be sure to include other family members in the education process, as chances are they will also be giving care somewhere along the way.
2) Accept Support From Others
Do not try to do it all!
Accepting support from others is as noble an act as caregiving itself. You may feel reluctant when asking for help, but siblings, extended family, friends, and neighbors may be more willing to provide needed support than you realize.
Because caregiving is a multi-faceted role, it is important for caregivers to have support so that they can remain healthy, and try to avoid stress and burnout. Caregivers can often become socially isolated when taking on the responsibility of caregiving, accepting the support of others can help to decrease the chances of this happening.
Widening the circle of people willing to help can mean others taking on smaller tasks, and lessening the burden on the main caregiver. Making a list of caregiving tasks that are needed can be helpful to give others a clear understanding of what is needed for your parent.
Tasks that others can provide assistance with include:
- Grocery shopping
- Transportation to doctor’s appointments, haircuts
- Dishes, housework, cleaning
- Meal preparation
Even family and friends who live out of town can help with the caregiving process by:
- Making regular phone calls to your parent
- Helping to pay bills
- Researching medical and financial options
Accepting this support from others can decrease the chance of conflict between caregivers.
Caregiver support groups also meet regularly at hospitals, and online organizations will likely have resources specific to what you and your parent are dealing with.
3) Take Advantage of Community Resources
There are services in most communities that can help caregivers and their parents. Calling on community resources can help ease the responsibility of caregiving.
Community Resources that exist include:
- Meal delivery programs
- Home care aides
- Hired companions
- Transportation and shopping services
- Fraternal organizations (if your parent is a longtime dues paying member of an organization, there may be resources available through that)
- Veterans Administration programs
- Personal care services (help with activities of daily living, take blood pressure, reminders about medication)
Many organizations that provide these services are funded through the government meaning that they are often able to provide assistance at little to no cost.
4) Inform Work
Juggling a career and caregiving can be challenging. It is crucial to inform your employer that you are a caregiver and that it may affect your presence at work.
Negotiating a new or more flexible schedule is one way for caregivers to help balance these two roles in life.
Ways to negotiate a new schedule include:
- Starting earlier or later
- Working from home
- Reducing the number of hours worked
Establishing boundaries is important: Try to keep work at work and caregiving at home, and avoid overwhelming coworkers with details of your caregiving.
Just remember, an honest and professional conversation with your superior about your situation is always best.
5) Make Necessary Legal Changes
Work with your parent on the legal documents that they have or want to have, such as:
- Living Wills
- Power of Attorney (Financial and Medical)
- Health Care Proxy forms
- Do Not Resuscitate Order
- Trusts and Guardianship
Locate important documents such as your parent’s birth certificate, deed to home, and insurance policies, and ensure they are filed properly.
Make a record of bank accounts, social security numbers, credit cards, health and life insurance policies, and drivers’ licenses.
Keep these documents in a safe and secure place, where they can be accessed quickly during an emergency.
6) Understand How to Communicate with Doctors
In order to have a successful healthcare encounter, learn how to effectively communicate with doctors and other members of interdisciplinary teams.
When communicating with healthcare professionals, be sure to:
- Write down a list of questions or concerns before the appointment
- Take notes on what the doctor is telling you and your parent
- Ask for clarification if you or your parent do not understand
- Keep a list of medications that your parent is taking including the name of the medication, dosage, and what it was prescribed for
- Organize your parents’ medical information and legal documents so they are up to date and easily located
- Ask for the doctor’s contact information and preferred method of communication
7) Care for Yourself
The psychological impact that caregiving can take on a caregiver is substantial. Taking time to relax, keeping a journal to gather thoughts or feelings, praying or meditating are helpful ways to maintain a sense of normalcy.
As a caregiver, it is important that you are in the best shape possible to be caring for someone else. Burnout, anxiety, and depression are all common side effects of full-time caregiving.
Warning signs of burnout include:
- Disinterest in activities previously enjoyed
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in weight, appetite or both
- Feeling emotionally and physically exhausted
- Changes in sleep patterns/trouble sleeping
Taking time to do things that you enjoy can help you to recharge and avoid burnout.
Ways to help yourself be the best caregiver:
- Keep a journal of thoughts or feelings
- Pray or meditate
- Eat nutritious meals
- Get together with friends
- Take a break
Seek out professional help if you see yourself or a loved one struggling with these warning signs of burnout.
Are You a Caregiver for an Aging Parent?