Coping as a Caregiver

November was National Family Caregivers Month, but at The Elder Care Firm we know that caregivers deserve support all year long.  Individuals rarely go from healthy to receiving end-of-life care overnight.  Typically, people age and face all of the challenges that come with it.  For many, those challenges include losing the ability to care for oneself over time.

Where illness and disability occur, families tend to step in to be the first line of care for their loved ones.  Often the caregiver wears many hats—spouse, child, grandchild, friend, nurse, cook, stylist, chauffeur, etc.  Caregivers might also have to be on high alert—monitoring the health and wellness of the individual on a consistent basis.

The pressure can feel overwhelming.  With all of these responsibilities, it is easy to get into the habit of neglecting your own needs while caring for someone else.  Here are a few tips for caregivers to help ease some of those pressures:

1. Schedule time for yourself—and stick to it. Too often caregivers will set aside time to do something they enjoy, only to cast it aside at the last minute because something came up with their loved one.  Some urgent matters simply cannot be avoided.  However, most matters that come up either are not urgent or can be completed by someone else you trust.  Take time to exercise, go on a date, meditate, take a relaxing bath, or read a book.  Compromising your time might be feasible, but compromising your health is not.

2. Take others up on their offers to help. Whether you’ve asked for help or a kind family member or friend has offered, don’t feel guilty for accepting help.  You are not required to do everything—in fact, you cannot be the best caregiver for another if you do not take care of yourself.  Delegate tasks to others you trust.  Let someone else drive to appointments, make phone calls, or pick up medications from the pharmacy.  Complete self-sacrifice should not be your goal.  Accept help and don’t judge yourself for accepting help from others.

3. Organize your caregiving time with a calendar that keeps track of appointments. Many use color-coding to keep everything organized and manage their time in a conducive way.

You can color code using the geographic area of the daily tasks—wouldn’t it be better to knock out the doctor’s appointment, family meet-up, and grocery shopping on the same day if those locations are all geographically next to each other?

You can also color code by the type of event or task—medical appointments in blue, family events in green, or household chores in yellow.

Another option is to color code your calendar by urgency or priority—red means urgent, yellow means that it is a priority but not time-sensitive, and green means not urgent. Color coding provides a picture of how chaotic or demanding your day will be, and it will help you schedule events that fit into the bigger picture of your daily demands.  It also is a great way to keep the person you’re caring for involved and updated, while prioritizing your scheduling needs as well.

Caring for someone can be difficult but being cared for can be just as challenging.  Knowing what to expect (when possible) can make the days feel less out of control.

4. Make a binder or bin to organize all necessary documents, so that in any instant, you have everything you need. Have a section for medical documents—the Medical Power of Attorney, list of doctors’ names and phone numbers, medication lists, and medical equipment instructions.  Designate another section for finances—including a Financial Power of Attorney, banking information, and a chart of monthly expenses for the household and medical needs of your loved one.

There should also be a section focused on the individual’s preferences for things like food, entertainment, and religion—found in a Personal Care Plan.  A Personal Care Plan gives instructions to any caretaker, agent, or service provider on the person’s individuality—what he/she likes or doesn’t like.

As people age, they maintain many of the characteristics that make them who they are.  Facing challenges in body or mind does not change that.  A Personal Care Plan is essential for sustaining individuality as long as possible while improving quality of life.  As a caregiver, it also relieves your need to make decisions unnecessarily.  It takes away the caregiver’s stress in trying to figure out what the person will enjoy doing for fun, or what food the individual likes when he complains about the food you have been serving.  Having a thorough Medical Power of Attorney, Financial Power of Attorney, and Personal Care Plan make decisions so you don’t have to.

Having those documents in an organized place, and having digital back-ups of them on a computer, USB drive, or trusted cloud account will assist the caregiver in moments of crisis.  Knowing where to find this information is one less thing you will have to worry about in stressful moments.

5. Your days do not have to be perfect. Many won’t be, and that’s okay.  It’s understandable for some days to be more frustrating than others.  To relieve the pressure and judgment you put on yourself as a caregiver, try reaching out to a support group.  Facebook has many online and confidential support groups for caregivers.  Keep in mind, if you are a caregiver professionally, confidentiality may still be required on your part.  However, if you are a family or friend caregiver, you should check out Planning for a Loved One with Chronic Illness: Insider Strategies to Plan for Medicaid, Veterans Benefits and Long-term Care by Christopher J. Berry.  This book provides invaluable insights through the long-term care journey and can be your guide through the many hurdles you will face as a caregiver.

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