The first thing we need to realize – as a caregiver or care receiver – is that we cannot do it alone. Going solo with this can lead to exhaustion and resentment, and nobody wants to be in this situation – on either side. But the cavalry can come to the rescue in the form of a network of people willing, and even eager, to support you on this journey.
Make a plan now to put into place when you need it.
A support system has many different faces and it can feel less overwhelming if you know who’s on your team when you need them. These will include caring friends and family, expert advisors, and people to create a fun distraction when you need it.
As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers”.
Identify family members and friends who will walk this path with you. There are lots of tasks associated with caregiving but they are definitely manageable in small doses. Help may take the form of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, or doing laundry. Close family members may assist with personal grooming chores or taking a loved one to medical appointments.
Don’t be afraid to lean on people who’ve been in your loved one’s life for a long time. These people can help you understand how their condition has evolved and the particular frustrations that have been caused. This group might include close friends, doctors, clergy, neighbors, and those who have provided services to your loved one, such as a handy man.
Join a support group.
A support group of others who are on the same journey can be a lifeline, providing encouragement and advice. These groups can be found locally in person, online – facebook is a particularly good resource for this – or on the phone. Meeting people who’ve walked a mile in your shoes allows you to share conflicted feelings, learn from others, and get help navigating the healthcare system.
Ask an expert.
Reach out to an elder law attorney to discuss options for support and contact your insurance company and see what options it may have. In some cases, long-term care insurance may pay for a variety of services, including in-home care and adult day care programs. Senior care groups often offers aging adults cognitive stimulation, social interaction, educational activities, meals, and possibly transportation to and from a facility.
Shared knowledge is power.
Some roles in the care team may be more passive — just being “in the loop,” keeping a watchful eye, and offering ideas to either streamline processes or improve outcomes. Don’t miss these important roles! As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Finance is a great example of this. Even though your loved one may still be managing money independently, it can be beneficial to have other select and trusted caregivers watching over the finances week-to-week in order to know what’s going on and look out for fraud, missteps, or opportunities to improve returns.
Remember it’s a learning curve for everyone.
Giving and receiving is a two-way street. Many adult children who care for their parents actually gain a lot from the experience – some would even describe it as spiritual growth. If you are the care recipient, don’t assume you are going to be a burden to your children. Perhaps, you are going to be more of a blessing than ever before.
Learn how to receive help graciously.
There are some quality of life issues that actually improve by surrendering some of our independence. Perhaps giving up the chore of mowing the lawn leaves more time for enjoyable gardening activities. Having help cleaning the house means more energy can be devoted to hobbies. With more helping hands you might find that your life becomes richer and less stressful.
If you are the parent, remember that you are still a role model to your caregiver children. When they were youngsters they learned values and how to handle the challenges of life from you. As middle-aged adults, they looked to you to see how to navigate those challenges that come with handling the many losses and disappointments that occur in life. And now, as caregivers, they still look to you to for guidance.
Communication is key.
Tell your family what your concerns and goals are as this process begins. Openness and honesty between caregivers and care recipients helps everyone understand the best way to meet goals.
It’s all about the love, y’all.
The architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who lived to be 92, once said: “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” Working together as a village gives everyone involved the opportunity to find this phase of life an enriching and life-affirming experience.
Make that list.
Here we have a printable sheet where you can write down the names and roles of the members of your care team. Suggested roles are listed at the bottom of the sheet. If the list gets too long, feel free to break it down into smaller lists: Family, Doctors, Church and Friends, Services etc.
There’s also a place for their contact information and the way they like to communicate – whether it’s texting, speaking on the phone, or by email. All this can help solidify what everybody’s role is, and underline that no one is alone in this.
Suggested roles to add to your list:
Primary Caregiver, Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney and Alternate, Primary Care Physician, other Doctors involved in care.
Local family members, non-local family members, Neighbor(s), Pastor and church friends, lawn care/landscaping, cleaner, dog walker, home repairperson.
If you or your loved one have in-home assistance: In-home carer, director and scheduler of in-home care organization.
If you or your loved one live at a managed facility: Director of Nursing, nurse that manages medication.