By Nicole Duritz
Forty two million Americans provide support to older parents, spouses and other loved ones. If you’re caring for a loved one, you may not think of yourself this way, but you are likely a family caregiver. Maybe you took on the role suddenly, or perhaps the responsibility evolved over time. While each family situation is unique, you can learn a lot from those who have been on this path before you. Here’s some advice from AARP and from people who’ve been where you are now. For more on family caregiving from AARP, visit www.aarp.org/caregiving.
Find Ways to Juggle Your Many Roles
I am a caregiver for my [99 year old mother]….The last three years have been hard trying to be a caregiver, full-time employee, grandma of eight ….I felt so stressed and I could feel my heart racing to make sure my mom and my job had the right attention.
--Eileen from Indiana
Millions of family caregivers manage jobs outside the home and the responsibility of providing care to a loved one. Whether you’re trying to figure out how to handle the juggling act now or are planning for the future, take advantage of a free AARP e-book, Juggling Work and Caregiving, written by expert in aging and families Amy Goyer. You can download it from one of several online bookstores, including www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.
Technology can also play a role in helping manage your caregiving and other responsibilities. AARP recently released an app called AARP Caregiving. It’s available for free from the Apple iTunes app store for iOS and can be used to help manage medications, keep up a list of contacts (doctors, insurance, friends, and others), store insurance card and photo ID images, and more. You can even share access to the app with friends and family who are on your caregiving team. The app will be available soon on Google Play for Android.
Involve the Whole Family
During those years [my mother] was ill, the responsibility for caregiving was assumed by several members of my family. I have two sisters, four nieces…, and a daughter. We all pitched in to help.
--Jamie from Alabama
You don’t have to manage caregiving all by yourself. To help you begin, have a family meeting. If your loved one is able to participate, encourage his or her involvement in the discussion. It’s important to talk about expectations and how your lives may change. As your responsibilities increase, you will probably need family members to pitch in. They can help with chores, meals, driving, and other daily activities. If you have out of town family members, perhaps they can arrange to come in from time to time to give you a break. If you do not have other family members, you may want to consider getting outside help, especially if you work outside the home. Read Hiring a Home Care Worker for insights and useful planning tips.
Learn About Medicare
My uncle is 91 and recently ended up in a nursing home to recover from a broken hip. I’m all he has. It was up to me to figure out what his health insurance would cover between trips to the hospital and his nursing home stay. I realized I didn’t know the first thing about Medicare or his other health coverage.
--Bob from Pennsylvania
If you’re caring for a loved one who is age 65 or older, chances are he or she has Medicare benefits. It’s helpful to understand the basics of the program, and AARP is here to help. We’ve created a question-and-answer tool, www.aarp.org/MedicareQA which can help you understand Medicare. You can browse subject areas or enter keywords to search for information.
Take Care of Yourself
“My advice would be to take breaks when you can and never lose sight of your own life. As much as we love our family, we absolutely must take care of ourselves. If we don't, we are of no use to anyone.”
--Anita from California
It’s important that you remain mindful of your own health and wellbeing. Take it from Anita and the millions of family care providers out there – you need to take care of yourself in order to provide care to others. The love and support you provide your loved one is as strong as the love and support you yourself take in. Stay in touch with your friends and let them help when they offer. Take in a movie, go out for coffee or invite friends to drop in to spend time with you. Keep up with your own health needs by keeping routine doctor’s appointments. Be vigilant when managing your own medications. And try to exercise and rest when you can.
If you are looking for insights and advice from other caregivers, visit the AARP caregiving community. Here you can chat online with others who are in the same situation.
Get Help When You Need It
The day-in and day-out responsibilities of family caregiving can be overwhelming. Even with the assistance of friends and family, you may still find that you need additional help. One helpful resource is The Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov or 800-677-1116. This resource can connect you to government and community-based organizations that serve older adults and their family caregivers. In addition to connecting you to services that can help with things like meals and transportation, you can also access caregiver training and education.
Share Your Story
You may find it helpful and therapeutic to share your caregiving story and read the stories of others in the same situation. AARP’s I HEART CAREGIVERS is an online resource where you can post your own story and learn from the experience of others in the process. You can also sign up on the site to find out how AARP is fighting for you and your loved ones for more support, help at home, workplace protections, training, and more. Visit www.aarp.org/iheartcaregivers.
If you’d like to get involved in AARP’s caregiving efforts in your state, visit your state event page.
You can also check out www.aarp.org/supportcaregivers to learn about what AARP is doing to advocate for caregivers and their loved ones.
Being a family caregiver can be one of the most rewarding – and one of the most challenging – roles of your lifetime. Be good to yourself, and know that help and support are available to you through your own network and through www.aarp.org/caregiving.
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Nicole Duritz is Vice President of the Health & Family issues team in the Education and Outreach group at AARP. She leads AARP’s educational and outreach efforts on health education issues, including Medicare, the health law, prescription drug affordability, long-term care, and prevention and wellness. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.