By Kevin Smith
Caring for an elderly, ill or disabled family member is a 24/7/365 commitment. If you are one of the over 750,000 family caregivers in Massachusetts who care for a loved one in their home or yours, you know what I’m talking about.
Helping dad get his bath. Cooking for mom. Driving your aunt to the library. Making sure grandpa takes his meds. Checking your uncle’s hearing aide batteries. Putting compression socks on your wife’s legs. Helping your husband make it down the stairs.
Keeping them safe. Helping them through their day.
Supporting their physical health and mental well-being.
It’s necessary. It’s constant. And it’s often overwhelming.
Our home care agency and its professional caregivers have seen and dealt with just about every imaginable challenge over the past 34 years. And while quality outside support can ease family stress, we also know that our services should never replace the family’s overall responsibility and commitment to the best possible outcomes for their loved one.
But what if you can’t afford even part time help from a homecare agency? Or what if your loved one resists the thought of care from a non-family member? You may be committed to serving their needs for the long haul. But how can you cope and juggle?
Have a seat, grab a coffee and take in these sanity-boosting tips.
Caregiving DIY #1: Honor your precious life.
As a caregiver, are you neglecting exercise, your spouse and kids, your job? If your brain, body and soul are not in sync, both you and the person you are caring for will suffer. Things may seem OK at the outset, but if you neglect you, the situation will deteriorate. List your personal priorities. Share them with your family and your siblings. Ask them to take turns supporting your loved one’s care. Stay connected with your friends—especially friends who are also caregivers. Help your elderly loved ones understand your other responsibilities and limitations. AARP’s Care for Yourself blog features offers a wealth of information to help family caregivers manage their time and the expectations of others and work exercise into their busy schedules.
Caregiving DIY #2: Use technology to make health care work for them (and you).
Our parents’ generation accepted everything their doctors told them, no questions asked. Our generation does online research. We get multiple opinions. We set up our personal health information online to track records and appointments. Put these skills to work on behalf of your elderly or disabled loved ones. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager for either an ongoing relationship or a one-time consult. They can give you an objective 30,000-foot view of your unique situation and help you keep your loved one’s care on track.
Caregiving DIY #3: Organize A Team
You know the saying, “It takes a village to care for a child?” The same applies to caring for your elderly or disabled loved ones. While you may not want (or be able to) to hire a professional caregiver for your parent or relative, you should:
- Be on a first-name basis with their closest neighbors; swap cell phone numbers and email addresses.
- Provide your town’s emergency services department with your loved ones’ names and location, and your personal contact information. This can help first responders make appropriate decisions related to your loved ones’ safety in the case of a fire, weather event or other disaster that may interrupt heat, water and electricity.
- Find a trustworthy handyman who can perform minor repairs and/or safety upgrades inside and outside their home, and keep things in good running order.
- Engage a transportation service in your loved one’s town or region that can pick them up on a moment’s notice if you are not available.
- Ensure that you and your family can monitor your loved ones even when you aren’t around. Install one of the new smart home security and monitoring systems and connect it to your smartphone.
- Make sure your siblings have all the above information. Agree upon a decision-making ‘chain of command’ and crisis plan in the event of a natural disaster or health crisis.
Caregiving DIY #4: Have “The Conversation”
As stressful as daily caregiving can be, nothing compares to the stress of managing a loved ones’ decline in health without a roadmap.
It may not be pleasant to talk about the progression of disease and death. However, this is one of the most important things your family can do, well in advance, to ensure appropriate care when the time comes. Talking things through while your loved one is still able to make decisions for themselves can also prevent devastating family disagreements on their care if they lose their ability to speak or think. Visit The Conversation Project and begin the dialogue now.
In addition to verifying that your older and/or disabled loved ones have a will, work with them, and an attorney, to create their advance directive and living will. If your loved ones have a terminal condition, work with them and their physician to create a Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment or MOLST document, now available in Massachusetts and many other states.
Caregiving DIY #5: Laugh. Love. Cherish.
When you are in day-to-day caregiving mode, with its necessary lists, reminders and tasks, it’s easy to begin seeing your loved one as a patient — not as a spouse, parent, grandparent or other beloved family member. When you are with your loved one, make time to share your day, news of your family, and events in the community. Engage them in a favorite activity: A game of cards, reading a book, watching a TV sitcom. Give yourself a break from cooking and take them to a local restaurant. Our time on earth is short. Your loved ones appreciate your helping them navigate the activities of daily living. But your most important legacy will be creating a bond of memories that endures long after they’re gone.
Kevin Smith is President and COO of Best of Care Inc., which provides home health care services to Greater Boston, the South Shore, and Cape Cod communities.