If you try to handle caregiving responsibilities by yourself, it will lead to stress-related health problems and even pre-mature death. It’s important to reach out to form a team, a network of friends, family and community resources that can help you provide the necessary care for your loved one. A critical member of that team is your loved one or care recipient, please do not forget that. So the answer to the question “do I include family and friends in the caregiving” is unequivocally yes! Here are some approaches on how to do that.
Team members need not all live in the home or even nearby or even have a lot of time to be of value. Family or friends living at a distance or have limited schedules can pitch in with meal organizing, bill paying, financial assistance, and social interaction. For example, the organized detail person in the family could set up an electronic calendar for taking medications, having meals delivered or various chores accomplished.
Decide who’s in charge and provide the necessary leadership for the caregiving team. It’s important to have a point person to communicate information, keep the process moving, and make sure everyone on the team understands the plan and priorities. In most families, one person assumes the primary role because he or she lives nearby, has a close relationship, or simply is a take-charge person.
It can be useful to engage an unrelated facilitator, such as a care manager, social worker, or minister, to help keep everyone focused, manage potential disagreements and communicate difficult subjects that are critical to the care of the care recipient.
Once you’ve started the caregiving discussion, you may want to ask other people close to your loved one, such as family, friends, and neighbors to be part of the process, better early than later. There may be conflicts, but don’t be afraid to talk through them. Better to discuss those issues up front or when they arise than in a time of crisis.
If you find that the other family members are resistant or unwilling to pitch in, please remember that we can make ourselves crazy trying to change them, but we still approach them and ask for their team participation. We need to accept what they will and will not do, and think more broadly about who else can provide help. There are many levels of help that the team members can provide. Some people can help with direct, hands-on care, such as eating, getting out of the house or personal care such as bathing and toileting. Other care that is more “hands-off” care that is just as important is dealing with the household bills, paperwork, grocery shopping, cleaning the house, or making phone calls regarding doctor’s appointments. Sometimes the best way to facility team work and get help is to match people with tasks they like to do and are most willing or able to do.
Once the team members are identified a caregiving plan needs to be discussed and developed. The plan needs to be both short and long term. Clearly every detail task or scenario cannot be determined, but attempting to look down the road helps all respond more effectively to changes and emergencies. It also helps assure that everyone keeps the focus on what’s best for the care recipient. A written record of the plan, who will do what, and any changes will assure that everyone is on the same page and avoid misunderstandings.
Once the team is identified, plan established, the roles of each team member needs to be established. Who is available to transport the care recipient to appointments, prepare meals, pay bills, or what other needs the loved one has? If you’re the primary caregiver, delegating even small tasks can make a big difference in your ability to deal effectively with all the needs. The primary caregiver needs to be straight and honest with themselves, the other team members, and the loved one. If the primary cannot do a particular task, ask if another team member can do it, or discuss whether there is money available to hire assistance.
Once everything is in place, the team needs to communicate with each other just as any team needs to do. Given working schedules and changes over time the team needs to set up continual communication methods, such as regular calls or emails to inform each other of ongoing changes and accomplishments. This exchange also needs to occur with the professional providers such as the physicians. Feel free to ask the doctors, nurses, social workers, or other health care providers questions about the various diseases and treatments, especially if you have to help in providing the service such as injecting medication or changing bandages.
In addition, it’s important to know where to get information and assistance. There are many resources in the community that can help. Educate yourself and the team members early on so when the need arises you and the rest of the team can help. Our Center for Healthy Aging has Senior Health Advocate volunteers that can help educate and locate services in the community. If interested call 775-237-8375.
Understanding caregiving costs is important. Clearly paying for personal care and other caregiving expenses maybe a burden and is extremely important to learn about and discuss with the team. Explore things like home safety where an ounce of prevention can help avoid disaster. For example, grab bars, shower seats, and Philips Lifeline personal emergency response system or the Philips personal medication dispenser can help avoid falls, hospitalizations, and deaths.
As a family caregiver it’s easy to forget about your own needs. As a result, caregivers are more likely to report high stress, depression, and other health problems. Don’t neglect exercise, sleep and healthy eating, and take time for activities and fun. You’ll need to keep up your energy and stay well to be able to help your loved one. Take note that there are respite services that help provide a needed break for the caregiver. A respite service may be a person to step in for the caregiving to relieve the burden and provide free time to the caregiver or taking the care recipient to a senior living community for a short stay – there are options. The takaway here: it’s important to reach out to form a larger network of friends, family and community resources that can help you – and, to remember that taking care of yourself and providing a team to care for your loved one “adds life to years” for you, the team, and the care recipient.
WashoeCaregivers.org also lists a variety of other planning resources.
Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519. This article also appeared in the October 2018 edition of the Senior Spectrum.