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Caring for the Caregiver

Whether youíre a son or daughter, a parent or grandparent, niece, nephew or neighbor, once itís discovered that your loved one needs help, youíve become a caregiver. Generations ago, families lived closer together and the woman usually didnít work outside of the home. They were the designated family caregivers and the ones they cared for didnít live as long with chronic illnesses as we do today. Now, there are more women that work outside of the home and families live farther apart from one another. Itís not your imagination ó today, itís more difficult to be a caregiver. Following are some helpful suggestions for handling this role:

First, be informed and get organized.

Youíll need to do your research; learn about your loved oneís needs and what type of care will be needed. Begin a Caregiving Journal that lists their health history, physicians, current medications, and any follow up medical care needed. Including a calendar is helpful. Have a serious conversation about what their end of life decisions are, and learn about their financial resources. If they have one, include a copy of their Long Term Care Insurance Policy, Durable Power of Attorney, or Living Will. Make sure that these documents reflect their current wishes and that their physicians have a copy of them for their medical records. If they donít have those documents, consult with a certified Elder Law Attorney. You may want to host a family meeting so that everyone is on the same page.

Ask for help.

Consulting with a Certified Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) can be a great help. A GCM can develop a care plan that will evaluate your loved oneís strengths and needs and identify valuable resources, often free, to meet those needs. Theyíll help you find the most appropriate services and that in and of itself can save you valuable time and money. GCMs are very skilled at moderating family meetings. They can also guide you through an often complicated and confusing health care system and explain the costs and benefits to help you decide what will be needed, identifying any health care or financial benefits that can help pay for essential care.

Share the caregiving tasks.

No one will do things exactly the way you do, but by doing everything, you could get overwhelmed. There may be volunteer or community services that can provide some of the care so that it is not your sole responsibility. Maybe a neighbor could shovel the walk or take out the garbage. Ask a volunteer or hire a private caregiver to help and you will have more time for more enjoyable tasks like enjoying each otherís company.

Balancing work and caregiving can be especially difficult.

When the hospital calls and tells you that your parent is being discharged today or if your fatherís paid caregiver calls off when you have to work, what do you do? Some of the larger employers offer Elder Care Benefits through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPís). The EAP contracts with local Geriatric Care Managers and Private Home Health Agencies to help their employees.

Donít neglect your own health.

See your physician regularly and donít skip your recommended health screenings. You wonít be able to help anyone if you become ill. Maintain your physical health. Find ways to incorporate exercise into your day. Walk when you are at your childrenís sports practices. Stretch in the mornings. Exercise relieves stress and has been shown to help lessen depression. If you havenít already, begin eating healthy foods. Your nutritional needs are just as important as your loved ones. When our bodies are cared for, it is so much easier to handle the stressors of caregiving.

Keep your cool.

If your own needs are being met, itís much easier to meet someone elseís needs. If you find that you are beginning to feel overwhelmed by everyone elseís needs, take a break. A short five minute time-out can really help if youíre at risk of losing your patience.

Ask your out-of-town sibling to come in and give you a break while they reconnect with your parents.

Go to the movies, get a haircut, laugh with friends, or just give yourself a chance to relax and not do anything. Some assisted living facilities allow people to come in just for the day and, depending on your loved ones resources, they may qualify for free respite care in their homes. Talking to your pastor or rabbi and meditation can help if you feel weighed down with caregiving responsibilities.


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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide