For some, the role of caregiver for an ailing or aging parent is one that has been planned for. For others, being thrust into the role of caregiver, in many cases while still raising your own family and holding down a full time job, is not one for which you’re prepared.
Feeling overwhelmed, underprepared and even unappreciated are emotions many caregivers go through. You may feel guilt, anger, frustration, sadness and anxiety, but these feelings are natural. Along with the negative feelings that may ebb and flow during the course of caring for aging loved ones you will also experience gifts that come with that role including, compassion, courage, forgiveness and a sense of understanding and fulfillment.
Whether you’re trained in the area of health care or if this is your first experience caring for an aging or infirm relative, there are some steps you can take to familiarize yourself with what lies ahead and what you can do to navigate the changing family dynamics.
Below are some tips to help you as you move into your new role:
- Before you can begin helping your aging loved ones you need a baseline of information on what they need, how you can help, what signs and symptoms to look for. Ask their doctor if he’s seen changes in their health or behavior and what you should expect. Ask him to review the medications list and frequency the medications should be taken, it’s best to compare this list with the medications you have found in your parent’s home to make certain they are taking the correct medications.
- If your parents haven’t seen a doctor recently, make an appointment for a comprehensive check-up. There could be underlying medical conditions that could be easily addressed which could make it possible for them to age in place and which may make your role of caregiver an easier one. Also, ask the doctor at the visit whether he feels your parents are able to remain living independently. Keep in mind that if they are borderline with needing in home care or moving to an assisted living facility, simply equipping the home with a medical monitoring device and them with a medical alert pendant you may be able to extend the time they can remain in their own home.
- What exactly do your loved ones need? Are they keeping up with personal hygiene as in bathing and getting dressed for the day? Are they taking their medications as prescribed? Do you notice any signs that may be alarming; such as forgetting to turn off the stove when they’re done cooking? Are they able to keep up with light housework and cooking? Do they need help paying the bills or doing heavier outside yard work? If they are overwhelmed with cooking meals and are perhaps not eating as healthy as they should be? If that’s the case look into a Meals-on-Wheels program or prepare meals for them and deliver them throughout the week. Knowing what your parents need will help gauge the level of involvement.
- Involve your family members in the role of caregiver. Ask for help with items you simply cannot take on. Look into county-offered services for the aging. Make notes and keep a folder of information available for all family members on any signs of deterioration in your loved ones. Put all medical information and prescription information in that folder as well.
- Prepare for any eventuality. In the event your parents reach the point when they can no longer live alone, what will the options be for their living arrangements? Will they move in with a family member? Do they need to explore assisted living or nursing home arrangements? Begin researching these options now as you don’t want to have to make decisions in the event of an emergency and be faced with an untenable situation. Be sure to involve your loved ones in the conversations and ask what their feelings are on where they may eventually be living. Preparing could also mean looking into hiring a part time home healthcare aide or a nursing service to come in and check on their mental and physical health on occasion.
- Undertake a financial check-up and review legal documents. While your parents may be hesitant to share bank account or credit card information, impress upon them that sharing that information can help with long term care planning needs. If you, and other family members, have an understanding of their financial situation you will be better able to navigate the roads that lie ahead. You will also want to ask if your parents have a will. Where they keep their life insurance and medical insurance papers. Who do they want to designate as a healthcare proxy or power of attorney? This information needs to be decided upon prior to deterioration in mental or physical health as you don’t want to be making decisions under duress.
- Safety proof the home. If your parents are determined to age in place, then your role as caregiver could mean doing a safety check up of the home to make certain it is safe. Mobility issues plague many seniors and removing trip and fall hazards, making sure there are clear walkways and that the rugs are non skid and are securely in place can go a long way in keeping trip and fall incidents to a minimum. Make certain smoke alarms are installed and working. Check that hallways and rooms have proper lighting and consider installing motion activated lights. Check the water temperatures to make sure that hot water isn’t going to scald them. Make certain they have access to adequate healthy foods and that they are, in fact, eating the food you’ve shopped for or prepared. Post a list of emergency phone numbers by the telephone and in other locations around the house where they can easily access them. Keep in mind, though that in the event of a medical emergency or a trip or fall accident they may not be able to reach the telephone and may be in too much pain or unable to dial the telephone – this again, is a reason to give them access to a medical alert pendant. At the push of a button emergency medical personnel are summoned and your parents will have access to an experienced call center representative from LifeFone who will stay with them until help arrives. LifeFone representatives will also call family and doctors to alert them.
Caregivers sometimes find themselves toiling in isolation. It may make sense to interact with other caregivers, ask them how they address particular situations and just simply talk with someone who understands what you’re going through. Being a caregiver for your parents, is one that may be fraught with tension but it can also be a time to reconnect and build new memories that will carry over for a lifetime.