Caregiving for a loved one can be one of the most important, challenging and rewarding roles a person can play, participants in an AARP Virginia Zoom meeting were told this week.
It helps if one is prepared, and the hour-long Zoom presentation - which was repeated twice and can be found online - was intended to help caregivers meet the task.
Being a caregiver can start with small tasks such as buying groceries or taking a loved one to a physician’s appointment, said Keisha L. Jackson, an AARP Virginia community ambassador and speakers bureau member. The role can gradually grow to include housekeeping, cooking, personal care, financial support and managing finances, emotional support and health care.
Jackson outlined five steps to help potential caregivers prepare to care. The steps are included in the online AARP Prepare to Care Planning Guide. A bound copy of the guide is also available. The steps include:
Start the conversation
Broaching the subject of caregiving may be difficult. The caregiver may think that the person who will be receiving care does not want to discuss the matter. Sometimes that is the case, but often the person who will be receiving the care is eager to have the conversation but reluctant to ask for help.
Jackson recommended easing into the subject, often by using something on the news or an anecdote about a friend or loved one to get the conversation started. She warned that it may take several tries to begin and that the full scope of the discussion may take several conversations.
The caregiving conversation should include such topics as what the care recipient will need; how they will pay for essentials such as food, housekeeping, housing and health care. Caregivers can plan for such needs with the AARP Financial Workbook for Family Caregivers. A separate financial workbook for veterans and military family caregivers is also available.
Form your team
Eventually, caregiving for a loved one can become too large a task for one person. That’s why it is essential to have a caregiving team that may consist of family members, friends of the care recipient, neighbors, volunteers such as those from the faith community, local community resources such as the Area Agencies on Aging, and paid services.
While proximity to the person receiving care is an advantage, Jackson noted that even people who live far away can contribute to the caregiving team by providing assistance in terms of tasks or finances.
For example, a relative who lives far away but may be computer savvy can help by setting up communications for the team or creating an online calendar for activities that members of the team can do at various times.
Jackson warned that the primary caregiver should balance the quantity and quality of the team and noted that too many team members might be difficult to manage.
Team members should have definite roles and responsibilities, Jackson said. She noted that communication among team members is crucial and suggested numerous ways the team can stay connected, including emails, text groups and video chats.
The recipient of the care should have significant input in developing the team, and indicate what types of support she or he is willing to receive from the various team members.
Make a plan
Planning for likely scenarios is a key component of preparing to care. The plan doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should address likely situations. Loosely, it answers the questions of what should be done in foreseeable circumstances, and by whom. A key is designating responsibilities as much as can be anticipated.
Not every situation can be anticipated, Jackson noted, but the plan should be developed with the care recipient to determine who will do what in various circumstances. Team members and the care recipient should be asked their preferences.
Among the elements of the plan, the care recipient’s schedule should be addressed. What tasks need to be handled at various times of the day? What medications need to be taken and when? Who will provide transportation to various appointments?
Although the plan does not have to be extensive, a summary should be put in writing and distributed among the key members of the team.
Community resources can often provide free or low-cost care and take some of the burden off the primary caregiver. AARP identified Virginia-specific resources in a a comprehensive Family Caregiver Resource Guide.
Almost every geographic jurisdiction in the country is covered by an Area Agency on Aging. Many AAAs have programs such as home-delivered meals, adult day care, and care management programs.
Many community programs that help provide care can be found in the online Eldercare Locator, a service of the U.S. Administration on Aging.
Some large employers may offer assistance programs to workers who are family caregivers, Jackson said.
To help people remain in their homes as they age, modifications sometimes need to be made—such as installing grab bars in a bathroom. A resource for such home improvements is the AARP HomeFit program.
Eventually, a caregiver may need to hire outside help. Such caregivers offer a range of services, often including light housekeeping and cooking as well as more personal care such as assistance in bathing and dressing.
When more around-the-clock caregiving is needed, Jackson said careful consideration must be made in selecting a facility. Criteria should include location, types of services provided and financial considerations. Jackson said caregivers should try to talk to residents and their families. The AARP Facebook group for family caregivers can be a valuable resource in assessing potential sites and discussing the needs of residents in assisted living and long-term care facilities.
Care for yourself
“Don’t overlook the impact of caring for yourself,” Jackson said, noting that “the best way to ensure that you have the energy to take care of a loved one is to take care of yourself.”
That means making time to eat, rest, exercise and take care of personal business. Caregivers should look for ways to share the load when possible by using community resources, helpful friends and relatives and technology.
Jackson said her number one piece of advice to caregivers is “breathe.”
In addition to the Prepare to Care Planning Guide, Jackson noted there are numerous other resources, including:
- AARP Caregiving Resource Center at aarp.org/caregiving. A call line is available for English speakers at 887-333-5885 and for Spanish speakers at 888-971-2013. The call center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Eastern time, and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- AARP Community Resource Finder at aarp.org/crf.
- Instructional videos and more at learn.aarp.org.
- AARP's Friendly Voice program from volunteers who call people who may suffer from isolation. Requests for calls in English or Spanish can be made at 888-281-0145 (English) or 888-497-4108 (Spanish).
As an example of the types of community resources available through local Area Agencies on Aging, Nakia Speller, the Supportive Services Division manager for the Prince William Area Agency on Aging, outlined programs in her area which includes Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. Among those services are personal care programs that provide in-home care for older and disabled adults.
- Home delivered meals through Meals on Wheels are offered. Contributions are requested, but not required, to receive the hot meals.
- There are two senior centers, one on the east side and one on the west side of the county, open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Among the programs offered at the senior centers are hot, congregate lunches.
- The AAA has an adult day help center for people with cognitive impairments. The centers offer programs that engage the participants in daily activities including occasional field trips.
- For those with questions about Medicare, the AAA has a Medicare counselor on staff.
The Prince William Area Agency on Agency can be reached at 703-792-6374.