Caring for the Caregivers
According to the National Family Caregiving Association, there are more than 50 million people in the United States caring for adult loved ones, and another 10 million caring for special-needs children. Not only are many of those caregivers members of the Sandwich Generation of Baby Boomers, but the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP found that 44.4 million of the caregivers for adults are providing UNPAID care. If Americans had to pay for this care, it would cost approximately $257 BILLION per year.
These generous loved ones freely give their time and energy, but more than 30% report serious hardships. Caregivers note significant trouble managing emotional and physical stress, an inability to balance work and family responsibilities, and concern about how to keep their charges safe. A quarter of caregivers report worrying about keeping track of medical information for their charges and communicating with health professionals.
Caregivers are heroes, but they shouldn’t have to feel like martyrs. One main key for helping caregivers feel more in control is helping them organize their time and resources.
THINK HEALTH AND SAFETY FIRST
Keeping your loved one safe is always your first priority.
Keep a master list of medicines, including the frequency & dosage and the contact information of the prescribing doctor on the refrigerator door in case of a health emergency.
Organize a list of emergency phone numbers, including doctors, family members and even 911 in LARGE PRINT, and post the list by each telephone in the house. This way, if you are ever unavailable in case of an emergency, your loved one or others in the home can take action quickly.
Eliminate obstacles when helping an older person arrange items in a new environment or in new ways. Move clutter off the floor and don’t block hallways and stairs. Paths should be wide enough for someone with a walker to get by.
Accommodate range of motion, which decreases as we age. Store kitchen items, luggage, and clothing within easy reach, with heavier items at waist-level or lower. Don’t make Grandpa bend too much or lead Grandma to climb a chair.
CREATE A DAILY OPERATIONS GUIDEBOOK
A key to having control is quick access to all of your resources. Create a three-ringed binder with sections for:
- Prescribed medicines with dosages and instructions
- Appointment history and notes from appointments with each doctor. Keep blank pages in this section so that you can list questions that come up between appointments.
- Notes on conversations with insurance companies
- Contact information — for doctors, attorneys, insurance agents and companies
- Alternative care resources like contact information and web sites for practical nurses, home-care aids, eldercare locations
- A daily and weekly schedule. It’s often comforting for both the caregiver and the person being cared for if they can review upcoming events and mentally rehearse what’s going to happen later that day or week.
LOCATE VIPS–VERY IMPORTANT PAPERS
A sense of disorganized affairs can be troubling for the caregiver and their loved ones. Relieve anxiety by locating the following key documents and ascertain that they are up-to-date:
- Wills, Revocable Living Trusts
- Durable Powers Of Attorney for Health And Finances
- Insurance Policies for Long-term Care, Life, Health And Property
- Account Numbers For All Investments
- Social Security Cards
- House Deeds, Mortgage Records
- Tax Returns
- Preferences for burials and memorials
Keep these papers in a safe place, but not necessarily a safe deposit box if only one person has access. In case of a medical emergency or traumatic event, a second family member should have pre-approved access to the safe deposit box. Otherwise, use a fire safe at home and keep photocopies with a trusted relative. It’s never too early to organize these VIPs.
CAREGIVERS NEED CARE
Caring for loved ones in their golden years can be rewarding, but it can also be physically and emotionally taxing. Caregivers must take care of themselves if they are to be of any use to others. Make sure that you:
- Attend to your own health–schedule and keep your own medical and dental appointments. Get a flu shot.
- Watch for signs of depression.
- Find a social worker, therapist or support group specializing in caregivers’ specialized needs.
- Make time for physical activity to keep your own body and brain working at peak capacity. Exercise is an excellent way to reduce stress and increase endorphins.
- Keep to a firm but flexible schedule. A predictable schedule is comforting for the loved one and makes things more manageable for caregivers.
- Stay involved in hobbies and things you love so that you don’t come to resent the time spent giving care. Resentment often turns to guilt.
DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALL BY YOURSELF—Arrange for back-up!
Asking for help is a sign of strength, because it’s acknowledgement of the difficulty of the situation at hand.
- Take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act to get time off work to care for family members.
- Take family members and friends up on offers to help and tell them specifically what you need…and when. Book their assistance on the calendar for shopping, doctor’s visits and home care.
- Partner with other caregivers. If your loved ones are mobile, trade off days with a buddy in the same situation so that two older people can sit together companionably to play cards, have some tea or watch an old black and white movie. For elderly relatives in moderately good health, this boosts their morale and lets one caregiver at a time have knowledge that their charge is safe while they can have some productive downtime.
- Take advantage of support groups and local and regional professional and volunteer resources.
Start with the National Family Caregiver’s Association http://www.nfcacares.org and then use the Senior Citizens’ Service section of the Yellow Pages and Google to check out local options. Also, review these sites:
|Area Agencies on Aging||http://www.n4a.org|
|Administration on Aging||http://www.AOA.gov|
|Strength for Caring||http://www.StrengthForCaring.com|
Every November is National Family Caregivers Month. Don’t forget to give support to the heroic caregivers you know!
Copyright © 2005 Julie Bestry and Best Results Organizing. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Julie Bestry is a professional organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Her most recent book is 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business. For information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at http://www.juliebestry.com.
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