While there is some small comfort in knowing that the pressures you feel are shared by many others, the bottom line to this very personal matter is simple: finding the time and services that can help make your life and the lives of your aging parents a little easier. This year, as you provide elder caregiving for a loved one who is either living with you or still in their own home, find the balance you need each day to continue to be a great caregiver for your loved one and yourself while avoiding caregiver burnout.
"Don't be afraid to ask for help, as it may be time to contact an elder care consultant who will make caregiving easier for you."
1. Take good care of yourself.
Before anyone else, you need to take caregiver first. Eat well, get exercise, get enough sleep and be sure you're also getting your annual physicals. It's not an indulgence—it's a necessity to prevent caregiver burnout!
2. Plan for winter safety.
This is a time when caregiver concerns accelerate as their loved ones are negotiating the challenges of another winter. Your checklist should include:
- Fall prevention — inside and out. Remove scatter rugs and secure handrails at all entrances of the house. Be sure your loved ones have the proper snow shoes/boots when walking outside.
- Arrange for snow removal of driveway, walkway and around a mailbox that's located away from the house.
- Adequate heating—arrange for automatic delivery of heating oil (elders have priority for reinstatement of electricity if power goes out).
- If your loved one is still driving, be sure the car is set with an overall winter protection (e.g. oil change, tires, battery, blankets, water, AAA membership). This is also a good time to reassess if they should still be driving.
3. Ensure your and their emotional well-being.
The first of the year is when the blues are very prevalent with the letdown of the holiday as the family returns home, sunshine is at a premium and getting out every day can be a challenge. You can help by:
- Making sure they're getting some exercise— walking in a mall, around the neighborhood or exercises at a local senior center
- Having their B-12 (if low, could impact memory, vitamin D, and thyroid levels checked by their doctor
- Scheduling a weekly event they can look forward to—a movie, dinner out or a visit by you or a friend
4. Schedule fun time for yourself on a regular basis.
You also need something to look forward to, whether it's time with a good friend or spouse, a weekend away, a family game night or just being alone.
5. Plan ahead for doctors' appointments.
If you're unable to assist your loved one, make arrangements with a sibling, friend, aide or neighbor. Afterwards, have them communicate to you the doctors' feedback and next steps.
6. Ask for help when you need it.
Know that you don't have to do it all, whether it's taking your loved one to a doctor's appointment, concerned about what to do next or just feeling overwhelmed. There are many resources to support your caregiving needs through websites, books and groups.
7. Seek family support.
Maintaining open communications with immediate family members and siblings gives you a chance to ask for help with various tasks. Plan a weekly check-in via email or phone to give updates and get the help you need, reducing your caregiver workload and alleviating some stress.
8. Reassess your loved one's situation.
This is a good time to take an inventory of your loved one's overall health, financial picture and living needs. Begin compiling a to-do list to be implemented over a period of time. Medical information should include your loved one's health conditions, prescriptions and their doctor's names and contact numbers. A financial list should contain property ownership and debts, income and expenses, and bank account and credit card information. You should also have access to all of your parents' vital documents that could include their will, power of attorney, birth certificate, social security number, insurance policies, deed to their home and driver's license.
9. Hire an elder care professional.
First and foremost, always remember why you are assisting your parent(s) and know that you are doing the best that you know how by providing your love, patience and support. Don't be afraid to ask for help, as it may be time to contact an elder care consultant who will make caregiving easier for you. An elder care consultant will provide tools and resources to develop a personal plan that outlines manageable next steps to ensure the best possible care. Be certain to look for an elder care consultant who partners with an extensive group of trusted advisors such as geriatric care managers, home care specialists, living facility directors, visiting nurses, financial planners and elder law attorneys to provide you with comprehensive planning solutions and services well beyond your loved one's medical needs as well as peace of mind.
10. Let go of the guilt.
There's no room or energy for any guilt. You're no longer a child, but an adult trying to care for an aging parent while still trying to have your own life. Remember, your parent was able to live their life and it is okay for you to want to do the same. Know that you're doing the best you can in caring for them.