Caring for a parent or a loved one is a difficult job. Your duties as a caregiver become increasingly difficult as the miles increase between you and your loved one. The following are a few helpful tips in order to plan ahead in the event your loved one needs your help, as well as ideas on how to become a successful caregiver once your caregiving duties begin.
1. Have a discussion with your loved one. Years before the need for caregiving arises, discuss ideas and thoughts with your loved one. Discuss with them their thoughts on possibilities of relocation, assisted living or nursing home care, and end of life arrangements. Make sure all of their legal and financial needs have been met. Talking with your loved one ahead of time will make them more comfortable with the idea of needing help down the road.
2. Design a Family Plan of Action. Before the need arises, get the family together and discuss responsibilities and divide them up accordingly. Devise a plan to keep in contact with those members who may be out of state by frequent phone calls, emails or set up a private chat room on the internet for family discussions. Investigate costs for care and travel expenses. Design contingency plans in the event that funds run out, level of care increases, and availability of family is limited.
3. Gather emergency contact information. Make a list of important emergency numbers such as out of town family members, family friends, physicians, attorneys, clergy, etc. To help preserve this list in the event of an emergency, place this list in a zip lock bag and store it in your loved ones freezer where they keep their ice cubes. Place a magnet on their refrigerator with a note as to the location of this list.
4. Gather important documents. Locate important documents such as social security card, Medicare and/or health insurance cards, legal documents such as living trusts, wills, and powers of attorney, all financial statements including life insurance information and real estate deeds. Inform the family regarding the location of these documents. Keep copies of powers of attorney in the event you need to make health care or financial decisions from a distance.
5. Organize and set up a network. Contact relatives, friends and neighbors who live close by your loved one. Ask them to routinely stop by and visit your loved one, and ask them to contact you if they observe anything out of the ordinary. Find out about community programs that provide services such as meals or transportation, and get them involved. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager to help coordinate the care.
6. Make the most of your visits. Schedule and attend physician appointments with your loved one when you are in town, and keep yourself informed with your loved ones diagnosis. Meet with members of your network, and ask them detailed questions about their interaction with your loved one.
7. Keep a journal. Take detailed notes of your loved ones care such as their progress, medications, changes in level of care, recent injuries, personality changes, etc. A journal will help keep the family organized, as well as provide helpful information for the physician or other caregivers who might be involved in your loved ones care.
8. Be observant. Be aware of changes in your loved ones personality, their appearance such as lack of grooming or soiled clothing. Verify that the mail is being opened and the bills are being paid. Set up a consistent schedule for communicating with your loved one, and pay attention to what theyre not saying. Remember, your loved one doesnt want to give up their independence, and they may not always tell you the truth.
9. Re-evaluate the situation. Assess your loved ones situation and dont be afraid to make adjustments as the circumstances change. Dont hesitate asking for help from other family members, and investigate the potential for placement in a care facility or hiring a full time live-in caregiver if the family and physician deems necessary.
10. Care for the caregiver. Dont allow yourself to get to the point that you experience burn-out. Get help from other family members, as well as take time for yourself. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise daily. When caregiving becomes too much for the family, and the level of care is beyond your immediate resources, seek out other options. Dont let your guilt get in the way of providing the best care for your loved one, even if a care facility or full time caregiver must provide that care instead of you.
Above all, remember to allow your loved one to remain involved in the decision making process for as long as their decisions do not negatively impact their health or safety. Remember to discuss your concerns with their care in a sensitive manner. Your loved one deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Be realistic about the situation, and in addition to looking out for your loved ones care, remember to look out for your own as well.