For some, the process of becoming a caregiver for a parent, spouse or any other loved one is a gradual one. You may notice your loved one’s health deteriorating with time and realize that they are going to need someone to care for them and look after their affairs in the future. In such a case, you have time to prepare you and your loved one for the things to come. You can slowly start to take over some of the role of caregiving as well as find ways to cope up with your new responsibilities.
However, sometimes the process of becoming a caregiver happens so quickly that you are left overwhelmed. When a close relative suddenly becomes ill or takes a serious fall, he or she may require immediate help and someone who can help to look after them. Such a situation can make whoever has decided to play the role of the caregiver feel completely lost and confused. This scenario is the more likely scenario.
Some claim caring for an elderly is just like caring for a child but that’s far from the truth. There are some similarities though. If you have children of your own, you must be familiar with all the charts given to you by the doctor detailing the milestones to expect as they grow older. When caring for an older person, things are not so clear and simple. Every case is unique as you don’t know what to expect and how to prepare for the challenges to come.
Despite the difficulties and challenges faced by caregivers, there’s no denying the fact that it is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Knowing that you are making a positive difference in the life of someone you love at their time of need gives you a sense of contentment that is unparalleled.
According to research, women tend to be the main caregivers in the family, with 66% of caregivers in the U.S. being females. However, as women start to age, they tend to have a greater need to be cared for than men. This is because, at present, women have a longer life expectancy than men and are likely to outlive their spouses, resulting in them living alone and requiring a caregiver. They also may not be as financially secure as some of their male counterparts and may need financial support as they age.
If you have recently become a caregiver or are anticipating becoming one, we have put together some useful tips to help you manage the role:
1. Make Use of Advanced Equipment
Many older men and women consider losing their mobility as losing their independence. They feel isolated and incapable of doing anything for themselves, resulting in depression. Thankfully, there is some great mobility equipment out there to help solve this problem. Mobility scooters and electric wheelchairs can help to ensure that your loved one can go about her life with as much independence as possible. He or she would be able to perform simple tasks such as going for a “walk” in the park or do some grocery shopping independently. These scooters and electric wheelchairs are compact, easy to maneuver and available in a variety of price ranges.
You can also encourage your loved one to make use of tracking devices like Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) so that you know where your loved one is at all times and he or she can get help in case of a fall. These are particularly important for those who have or are developing dementia.
2. Calculate the Amount of Care Needed
When caring for a loved one, many of us dive right into it without calculating the amount of time and attention they will require. It is a good idea to make a list of tasks that you will need to manage on a daily, weekly and monthly basis for your loved one. Think about the everyday tasks they need help with and occasional things such as doctor visits. Once you are clear on what your responsibilities are, you can work out how you will manage them given your personal and work schedule, the participation of family members and whether you will need any extra paid or volunteer help.
3. Don’t be Shy to Seek Help
Too many family members make the mistake of trying to manage everything by themselves and not seek any external help. The right strategy, in this case, is to work out how much time you can dedicate without overburdening yourself. Remember, you can only care for someone else if your own health isn’t compromised in the process.
There are a couple of ways to get some respite care. One is to ask other siblings or relatives to divide some of the responsibilities. Be sure to ask early on in your caregiving role as the more you do without help, the more they will expect you to do. Always have a list at your side of things that others can help you with.
Adult day-care programs are another useful option –your loved one will appreciate the support and socialization while you get the rest you need.
Some agencies in your area will offer respite care on a scholarship basis. Check with the Alzheimer’s Association, your Area Agency on Aging or your local Senior Center to see if they have any information.
Finally, there is the option of hiring a paid caregiver. It’s usually safer to go through an agency but you may also be able to ask around to find a dependable person. Take precautions.
4. Be Sensitive to Their Emotions
When people experience a major transition in their life, such as losing the ability to care for themselves and becoming dependent on someone else, it is normal to feel anxious and stressed. Remember, they are not putting all these responsibilities on you because they want to, but rather because they have no other choice. They are going to feel bad for asking, miss their independence and regret that they are not living the life they had always lived.
Emotional support is just as important during this time as physical. Communicate as much as you can, reassure them that they will still have a say in their decisions and that you will be there for them as much as possible.
5. Look into Financial and Legal Implications
As a caregiver, it is important to look into financial and legal matters as early as possible to prevent any problems later. Too many caregivers put off these important issues for later thinking it’s too early to discuss them but life can be so unpredictable and you never know how things will progress.
Although the conversation can be awkward, inform your loved one about the costs of her medical services and other expenses and ask whether he/she has the funds to afford it. Have this conversation at a time when he or she is relaxed and let him or her be the decision-maker, with you offering guidance and support.
You must also look into how power of attorney works and whether your loved one has a trust or a will in place. Get in touch with a lawyer specializing in elder law who can guide you and your loved one through the process.
At the end of the day, being a caregiver changes you. When caring for a person at a time when they are most vulnerable and guiding them through the last few years of their life, you learn a lot about yourself, that person and the things that truly matter in life. Especially if that person is a parent or a close loved one, the whole experience can be one that is emotionally challenging as well as exhausting. You should make sure to look after yourself in the process and refrain from sacrificing your dreams and goals.
But also know that you are doing something wonderful that not everyone can manage and that even if it’s not often said, you are appreciated.
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