Maybe you did not or were not able to plan ahead for the current situation with your parent — his or her condition may have worsened suddenly or come about unexpectedly. Nevertheless, it's never too late to start planning ahead. Now that your parent needs your caregiving assistance, take all the steps necessary to set yourself up for a calm and smooth process.
"Some feelings of fear, resentment, even anger are normal — but if your emotions are preventing you from getting things done, then get professional help."
Especially if you consider yourself "organizationally challenged," the following tips will help you help your parent, but they also will help you tremendously as you move forward with your own busy life.
- Prioritize. If you have recently become a caregiver, then the first step is to make sure the most pressing issues are in order. Typically those items are: (1) the living/housing situation; (2) locating important documents; and (3) assessing current financial status and anticipated future financial needs.
- Get your emotions under control. This can be one of the most challenging aspects of caregiving and can paralyze your ability to get organized and function effectively. Some feelings of fear, resentment, even anger are normal — but if your emotions are preventing you from getting things done, then get professional help. Find a support group or therapist and start talking for as long as you need. There may be some feelings and emotions that have been buried for a long time and are now rising to the surface.
- Take notes. Get a pocket notebook and pen and carry it with you everywhere. Ideas and questions may come up while you're standing in line at the grocery store, or a friend may offer a great suggestion while you're watching your daughter's soccer game. Write everything down because times of heightened stress can cause anyone to become forgetful.
- Get help as needed. There are numerous experts and resources available to help you with issues from financial and legal to home care and medical concerns. The Internet can be a fountain of information as long as you know where to look. Locally, tap into the town senior services agency, geriatric social workers, physicians, therapists and the hospital. Regionally and nationally, there are associations that address everything from aging and eldercare to specific diseases and Medicare. Keep contact information handy and access those resources as you need them.
- Simplify. Now is the time to cut out the fluff and focus on the basics. You might want to put off the kitchen remodel or the addition of a new household pet. But do not cut out any activities that are part of the normal routine for yourself and your children, such as after-school classes, sports and the health club. Also, be particularly mindful of special days in your children's and parents' lives, such as school events, holidays and birthday celebrations.
- Communicate effectively. Take the time to speak frankly with all the important people in your life and your parent's life. Start with the immediate family and have a heart-to-heart discussion with those people who can help you with caregiving responsibilities as needed. Even if you are the caregiver living with or closest to your aging parent, other family members can help with ancillary activities and can plan to visit to alleviate your day-to-day caregiving responsibilities. Tools available on the Internet can help keep all vital people in the know regarding the calendar, doctor visits, medication, contact information and location of important documents.
- Expect to get caught off guard. No matter how organized you are, glitches are going to creep in. Know they are coming and that often things don't go exactly as planned. If you have your support system in place and you've taken care of organizing your most important priorities, then you should be able to hit an occasional bump in the road without destroying your internal transmission.