This guest post is contributed by Julie Davis, Chief Content Officer at Parentgiving.com.
Most of us, and women in particular, try to juggle the tasks of caregiving—usually in addition to other family and work responsibilities—all on our own. Unfortunately, this can lead to caregiver burnout, with the net outcome that you won’t be able to be the best caregiver you can be. But the reality is that you don’t have to go it alone. Use these 10 strategies as your roadmap.
- Create a family schedule. Step one is to accept help from friends and family, but step two is equally important: Nail down that help. People do better with specific tasks, whether it’s doing grocery shopping or making a prescription pickup at the pharmacy. Online tools allow you to create a calendar that friends and family can access so that each person knows what they’re doing.
- Join a support group. Ever feel like you’re ready to explode? Having a forum in which you can air your frustrations and stresses without guilt can keep you sane through the many difficult periods you may face.
- Look for shortcuts to save time. Your time is at a premium. If you try to do a million things at once, you’ll end up not doing any of them very well. The answer is to cut down on the number of tasks. If you’re in charge of ordering medical supplies for an elderly loved one, take advantage of re-ordering services like the one www.parentgiving.com offers, buy in bulk at big boxes stores like Costco and, when possible, use mail order pharmacies that refill every three months and deliver to your door.
- Be an advocate at doctor visits. When you’re the patient, it’s hard to remember a list of instructions being rattled off. When you’re the caregiver, making notes and asking questions is the most valuable help you can provide. If a new prescription is being written, ask if it could negatively interact with others already being taken; if a new test is ordered, ask what the purpose is and what pre-testing steps must be followed. You can be more objective than the patient, who may be scared or confused.
- Get professional assistance for caregiving. There are times when you might feel that you can’t be objective about the needs of a loved one. It is time for assisted living or a memory care facility? You may not feel qualified to judge or you may feel determined to forge ahead as things are, yet neither circumstance might be good for everyone involved. Hiring a care manager can give you a fresh set of eyes and ears experienced in evaluating seniors’ needs.
- Reassess as needed. Maybe last year the plan you have in place worked beautifully, but now it’s coming apart at the seams. Your loved one’s needs could be constantly changing, and you may now be facing health needs of your own. If you anticipate that circumstances change and that you need to change course as this happens, you’ll keep a flexible outlook and be more effective at adjusting the plan.
- Engage in activities you enjoy. Your loved one doesn’t want a martyr, and when you sacrifice your life, resentment can build, frosted with guilt. The answer is to make “me time.” Take a walk, call a friend, try a watercolor class—pick an activity you like and ink it into your agenda at least once a week. In addition, give yourself a daily time-out, even if it’s just 10 minutes of yoga or deep breathing to refocus your energies.
- Address your stress. There’s no getting away from it—everyone has some level of stress. And when you’re caregiving, chances are that level is on the rise. Yes, that support group you joined will help, but it’s common to need more. If you find yourself looking for a shoulder to cry on more days than not, consider getting mental health therapy. We each like to think of ourselves as strong and stoic, able to take on whatever comes our way, but the life changes that caregiving foists on us, magnified by the pain of seeing a loved one in need, can do unseen damage to the psyche. There’s no stigma anymore in getting counseling to weather a storm of this magnitude. Talk to your primary care physician about a referral to a trusted therapist—even just one or a few sessions might be enough to brighten your outlook.
- Take necessary safety steps. No matter where your loved one lives, make sure their environment is outfitted for their needs. Don’t let clutter or loose wires and cords becoming tripping hazards, doublecheck that any grab bars are secure and strategically placed. Falls are a serious danger to seniors, even when they are fully mobile–guard against them at all costs.
- Create special moments to share. Caregiving shouldn’t only be about everyday tasks. Build it time to enjoy being with your loved one, to reminisce about family and friends and memorable events, to savor a favorite meal or watch a movie that you always liked. It’s easy to forget to stop and smell the roses when you’re concerned with just keeping a loved one functioning, but quality of life is important, for both of you.
Julie Davis is the chief content officer for www.parentgiving.com, a comprehensive website dedicated to the health and wellness needs of seniors and their caregivers, both near and far. Parentgiving offers hundreds of informative articles and thousands of products that allow people to age well at home, practical tools for all the activities of daily living for those who want to stay independent as well as those with limited mobility. Julie’s mission is to provide the widest possible range of articles on all issues affecting better aging, from advances in medical research to preserving quality of life and enabling aging in place. She has been a health and fitness editor for over 25 years, has written over 50 books and developed more than two dozen magazines and websites.