The holidays are over! If you are like most of us, you probably overextended yourself with decorating, shopping and cooking. And if you are one of our nation’s 49 million family caregivers, you no doubt were feeling doubly stressed! Chances are that creating New Year’s resolutions never even made it onto your to-do list. Here is a set of resolutions tailored for family caregivers to help make 2014 happier, healthier and more relaxed for the whole family.
1. Have a conversation with your employer. Working caregivers often struggle to juggle their caregiving tasks and job duties. Some caregivers are hesitant to discuss their situation, not wanting to bring personal problems to work. But if you are sometimes late coming in or have to spend time on caregiving-related phone calls, it is probably best that your employer knows what’s going on. More companies today realize that accommodating and assisting caregivers is part of a good employee-retention strategy. Remember that your company is as eager as you are to lessen the impact of caregiving on your productivity. Ask if your company has an employee assistance resource and referral program that offers family caregiver information and support.
2. Consult professionals about legal and financial issues. Elder law attorneys, financial planners and geriatric care managers can offer valuable advice to help with finances, preparing for long-term care, Medicare and Social Security, estate planning, powers of attorney and guardianship, advance directives, tax issues related to caregiving, and the legal rights of employed caregivers.
3. Make your own health a priority. The stresses of caregiving raise the risk of a variety of illnesses for caregivers. Yet caregivers often fail to make time for their own healthcare. Remember: Taking care of yourself is a vital part of providing care for your loved one. Have regular checkups and follow your doctor’s advice about diet, exercise, sleep and medical treatments.
4. Consider your coping strategies. The challenges of caregiving lead some caregivers to choose unhealthy stress-reduction mechanisms. Alcohol, overeating, smoking and snapping at your loved one or others only make things worse. Instead, choose a positive coping response. Try meditation and yoga. Listen to music. Remember that exercise is a great stress-reliever and supports all-around health. Keep a journal where you can let out your emotions safely. And for most caregivers, some "me-time" is the best tonic! If you are struggling with difficult emotions or substance dependence, seek professional counseling.
5. Join a support group. Many caregivers have found empathy and friendship in a caregiver support group. Support groups provide a safe place to express your feelings with others who face the same challenges you do, to share practical solutions to problems in common, and to find stress-busting humor in difficult situations. To locate an in-person or online support group, ask your healthcare provider, your local senior service agency, your faith community or an organization devoted to your loved one’s health condition, such as the Alzheimer’s Association or American Stroke Association.
6. Take a vacation. A real vacation! Many caregivers use all their vacation time to provide care for their loved one—or they feel guilty if they take time away from their caregiving duties. And money is often tight for these people who do so much for their loved ones. But it is worth it to find temporary care for your loved one so you can recharge your batteries with a change of scene and routine, even in a place close to home. Vacationing can decrease depression, improve sleep, increase mental sharpness and even give a boost to the immune system. Upon your return, the resulting renewed energy will help you be a more effective caregiver.
7. Hold a family meeting. If you are already shaking your head at some of the previous resolutions, saying, "When will I find the time and where will the money come from?”, then it is time to think about others in the family who could step up to the plate. A family meeting is an opportunity for all family members to understand the challenges, identify solutions and better share the caregiving load. Many times, other family and friends are willing to help, but they don’t know what you need. Remember, if one family member is providing the lion’s share of care, it is not unreasonable to ask other family to help with time and/or financial contributions. If it seems that this will be a difficult conversation, a geriatric care manager or other professional can help facilitate the meeting.
8. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of public support programs. You and your loved one have no doubt paid taxes all your life. These taxes help pay for the programs that support the well-being of our older citizens, and help caregivers remain productive and healthy. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out about nutrition programs, senior transportation services, respite care and health programs that are available in your community. Be sure your loved one is accessing all available benefits from Social Security, Medicare, the Veterans Administration and other support sources.
9. Rethink your old resolutions. Maybe you made a promise to your loved one to never "put them in a nursing home." Maybe you decided you would put your life on hold for your loved one. Maybe you resolved never to move from the family home where your children grew up. It is no sign of weakness to re-evaluate your situation as your loved one’s care needs change and your own life and needs change. You didn’t have all the information then that you have now. If your loved one has complex medical challenges and an increased need for care, nursing home care or an assisted living or other supportive living environment may be the best choice. Downsizing might make your own life easier. Here again, a professional such as a geriatric care manager can help you examine your options.
10. Learn more about in-home care. Most people would prefer to continue to receive care in their own home. Whether your loved one lives with you, in their own home or in an assisted living or other supportive living community, professional in-home care can be such an important supplement to the care provided by family. Here are some of the ways in-home care can help:
- Housekeeping and meal preparation.
- Assistance with bathing, dressing, grooming and other personal care tasks.
- Transportation to appointments and community activities.
- Socialization and companionship.
- Medication reminders and supervision for following the healthcare provider’s advice.
- Assistance with home modifications that can make the home a better fit.
- Special assistance for clients with Alzheimer’s disease or a related condition.
- Serving as a liaison for long-distance caregivers for reassurance and peace of mind.
What about the cost of in-home care? Many families try to go without help because they think home care is too expensive. But when you consider the impact of caregiving on the careers and health of caregivers, home care can be a financially wise choice. Talk to other family members about this issue; they may be willing to share the cost.
AARP has just released the " Caregivers: Life Changes and Coping Strategies" report, which examines the challenges faced by caregivers today.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.