Caregiving Happens: Where to Begin
Thanksgiving is just around the corner and, for many families, this may be one of the few times during the year where they spend time together. For some, it may have been a year or more since they last spent time with parents and other loved ones. Often, adult children notice changes in their aging parents—they may be moving more slowly, forgetting more frequently or allowing bills to pile up without paying them. The adult children may face the theme of this year’s National Family Caregiver Month: “Caregiving Happens.”
Every November we observe National Family Caregiver Month, a time for all of us to formally thank those among us who are taking care of loved ones, either up close or from a distance. “Caregiving Happens” acknowledges both the fact that caregiving roles can suddenly pop into our lives, and that when we are a caregiver, it’s a full-time role.
Most adult children have the desire to take care of their aging parents, but also have their own family and work responsibilities. Here are some tips to help you ease into the caregiving role.
Evaluate your parents’ ability to live safely
The first step to being an effective caregiver is to be well informed. Are your parents able to run a household and pay bills on time? Are they taking their medications correctly? Should they still be driving? If you have concerns, speak with your loved ones and ask permission to talk to their healthcare providers, financial advisor or other professionals they work with. Whether you live close to them or far away, it can be helpful to talk to their friends and neighbors and be sure they have your contact information.
Discuss the possibility of a crisis before it occurs
Sit down and have “the talk” with your loved one. This can be a difficult talk to have, as many are reluctant to talk about issues of health, but having an honest conversation may prove to be lifesaving down the road. Embrace a spirit of compassion and respect. Show your parent that you understand their concerns and that your greatest wish for them is for their optimum well-being. If they haven’t yet named a healthcare power of attorney/proxy or created a living will, help them get started.
Create an action plan
Once you’ve assessed your loved one’s situation and needs, it’s time to determine what your role should be. If there is a situation that requires some attention, talk to other family members about the best steps to take. Enlist the advice of healthcare providers, eldercare attorneys or any others than can help provide assistance. Remember that unless your loved one is completely incapacitated, he or she must be centrally involved in developing the plan. You are trying to help Mom or Dad take control of their life, not control it for them. Your goal is to support their maximum level of independence, self-esteem and dignity.
If your loved one has a diagnosis such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, or other chronic illness, learn all you can about the condition. This will help you understand what they’re going through and perhaps ways you can help improve the situation.
Keep in touch
Of course, face-to-face visits are the best way to monitor a loved one’s health, but this isn’t always possible. Here are some way to keep in touch from a distance:
- Call often, and encourage your loved one to call you. Use video if possible.
- Set your loved one up with a simple email program, a mobile phone, or a tabletop smart screen device.
- If your loved one’s friends or family members use Facebook, help your loved one create a Facebook account.
- Remember that cards, letters and photos never go out of style!
Enlist the help of a professional
Whether you live near or far away from your parents, hiring a senior care professional makes sense and is a great way to help ensure your loved ones are being properly taken care of. A good place to start is with an Aging Life Care® manager, who can assess your loved one’s needs, develop a customized plan of care, and serve as an advocate during medical appointments and emergencies. A care manager serves as a single point of contact for becoming aware about all issues of your loved one’s well-being, whether it’s a medical condition, financial challenges, or legal issues.
Caregiving will “happen” to most of us, but it becomes much easier when you enlist the support of those experienced in dealing with the issues of aging. If you’d like to learn more about the services we provide, please contact us.