Caregiving for a senior adult is an act of devotion and commitment. It is both rewarding and challenging but can be made easier by early preparation. Evaluations, discussions, and planning should occur well in advance of the time when care is required and decisions need to be made.
New senior caregivers should look at the who, what, when, where, why and how of the process:
Who Should Be the Primary Caregiver?
A self-evaluation is a good first step. For example, these questions should be asked if you are considering becoming a caregiver for your loved one:
- Do I have the time?
- Do I have the patience?
- Can Mom or Dad and I get along through good times and bad?
- What will this do to my own family?
- Will I jeopardize my career and finances by accepting this responsibility?
The answers to these questions will change as the condition of your loved one changes. When her or his abilities decline, more of your time will be required, and probably more patience. If there are unresolved issues, the additional stress of caregiving may strain the relationship even further.
Caregivers are pulled in a lot of different directions. It is usually about the time that their kids are in high school or college, and the seniors’ children – the potential caregivers — are often at the height of their careers and earnings. It’s not an easy decision for anyone to make.
What Will Be Required of the Caregiver?
The best way to find the answers to that question is to contact a Care Manager. Care Managers have experience addressing these situations. They will visit your home and talk with you and family members about the many aspects of caregiving.
Care Managers can answer questions about insurance and benefits, as well as what safety and assistive items might be needed in the home. They can describe the path the senior’s illness will probably take, explain the support services available to supplement care, sort out family disagreements, create goals and plans, identify financial concerns and recommend other professionals to provide guidance.
They also help people with questions they may not even know to ask. This keeps them from making many mistakes and missing out on benefits to which they are entitled.
It is highly recommended to first legally designate who will be identified as the caregiver in an advanced health care directive, along with discussing the wishes of the seniors. Having this in place well in advance, when Mom and Dad are still able to make their own decisions, is vital.
When Will I Be Needed?
Many family caregivers act as managers, and pull together a team of family, friends and care management specialists to provide the necessary services. As the needs of the senior increases, your care management team can increase the amount of personal aid and medical services in the home.
You also need to take care of yourself. The stress of caregiving can lead to caregiver burnout — which can include depression, increased susceptibility to illness, weight gain, sleep deprivation, physical injuries, and the increased use of alcohol. Don’t become locked into a destructive, ever-increasing commitment of time and energy. Don’t forget that the first person you must take care of is yourself.
Where Can I Find Resources?
Aside from the consultation services of a care management professional, it would be wise to consult other family members. Find out what they are willing to provide. You don’t have to do it all. If your brother is good with finances, maybe he could deal with Mom or Dad’s bills and investments. Perhaps a sister who has medical training can advise and monitor health situations.
There also is a wealth of information online, including a guide from the AARP, which provides information on how to get started and prepare for the caregiver role.
In addition, Bethesda offers respite care, sending personnel upon request to the home to relieve caregivers who need to attend to their own lives or simply leave for a time of rest and recovery.
Other considerations you might want to explore include the requirements for qualifying as a paid caregiver, or the benefits provided by the Family Medical Leave Act.
Why Am I Doing This?
When you decided to become a caregiver, was it out of love or reluctant obligation? Do you still enjoy times of sharing with your loved one? Do you feel good about what you are able to provide for them, or is your life tipping out of balance and becoming unmanageable?
It might be useful to keep a daily journal of your experiences as a caregiver, as it will help you put things into perspective. This will not only assist in monitoring the day-to-day condition of your loved one, but may help you reaffirm your purpose and re-energize you.
How Do New Senior Caregivers Find Support?
Caregivers are generally compassionate people who commit themselves deeply to the people they love. They push on as caregivers, sometimes resulting in their own challenges, because it is who they are.
First, realize that you are not alone, and you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Accept that you may have to let go at some point as you can no longer manage the senior’s care needs. Care Managers can help you determine when that is and assist your loved ones into assisted living communities or skilled nursing communities, which can provide the needed care and supervision.
Online caregiver support groups and information can be found at sites like the AARP.
Are you new to family caregiving? Contact Bethesda to learn more about our Care Management Program, and how our Bethesda can help you with a customized plan for your senior loved one.