And Caring for Your Owns Needs Too
Tending to the physical and medical needs of a sick or aging loved one can be a rewarding, yet challenging, responsibility. With life expectancy well beyond 70 years, it is common to be caring for parents (or a spouse) and raising children at the same time.
How can you establish a healthy balance between caregiving and managing your work and other commitments? You can start by doing some early planning, which includes discussing the wishes of the sick or aging person and getting the “business” of caregiving in order. Having information organized and people authorized to make decisions makes aspects of caregiving go more smoothly.
Early Planning and More
Thinking about a time when a loved one will be unable to make decisions can be hard; it’s even harder to predict what kinds of decisions may need to be made. Preparing for the future is important for everyone but especially for someone with a disabling condition. Early planning allows the person to communicate what they want so you can act on their behalf. Be sure to discuss preferences about in-home care, adult day care, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Coordinating medical care for someone is a big task so organizing all important medical information in one place goes a long way when you are asked to provide it to doctor’s offices. You will need to have this information at your fingertips: birthdate and social security number; names, numbers and addresses of doctors, dentist and pharmacy; health insurance details (make copies of cards, front and back); a complete health history, including major illnesses/conditions/surgeries, and dates/results of recent medical testing; and a list of medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), vitamins, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements (include dosage and instructions for when and how each are taken). Use the links below for forms to help assemble all the details.
Gathering Important Information
Legal Tools and Documents
An important part of taking care of someone with a temporary or permanent disability is making sure that someone (perhaps you, the caregiver) has been appointed to manage the person’s personal business and make healthcare decisions (not always the same person). If your loved one hasn’t already written a will, appointed a power of attorney for finances, and prepared advance directives, you may need to facilitate this.
Advance directives are legal documents that tell healthcare providers what medical treatments are wanted and which are not. The most common forms of advance directives are:
- Healthcare proxy — a form that allows a person to name someone else (a healthcare agent) to make healthcare decisions on their behalf.
- Living will — a written descriptions of the medical treatments a person would or would not want in the future.
People may also include a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in their advance directives to address end-of-life situations. A DNR tells healthcare providers not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if a person stops breathing or their heart stops.
Caring for a parent can seem like an odd turn of events. Even though you may provide emotional, financial and physical care for a parent, it is not the same as raising them. For best results, treat them as individuals and be sensitive to the fact that it is difficult to accept losses, including the ability to care for oneself and the death of old friends.
Another kind of role reversal occurs when a man becomes a caregiver for his female partner. Psychologist and VP at the American Cancer Society, Kevin Stein says that males and females take very different approaches to caregiving, that “men tend to be focused on more pragmatic, less emotional and less psychological issues.” Women tend to be the primary caregivers so when roles are reversed, men sometimes discover that their efforts to help go unappreciated. Role reversals can be rocky at first. It helps to listen carefully to what your loved one needs.
Taking Care of the Caregiver
According to the Administration on Aging, about two-thirds of family caregivers also work outside the home. You are not alone if you care for a loved one and feel overwhelmed by the challenges of juggling your home and work responsibilities with those of caregiving. Stress associated with caregiving can take a toll on your health, relationships and work, and can lead to burnout. You may not think you can add another thing to your list (like taking care of yourself), but getting burned out makes it tough to take care of anyone. Here are some tips for ways to establish a healthy balance:
- Communicate your needs and ask other family members to pitch in with driving to appointments, bill paying, grocery shopping, errand running, etc.
- Don’t expect perfection. You can’t do it all so be willing to accept “good enough.”
- Establish boundaries. Be clear with the person you are caring for and other family members what you will not be able to do. Print out the Caregiver’s Bill of Rights and refer to it often.
- Research resources. There may be adult day care, meal delivery, financial support, respite care (a break from care-giving) or other services available through your local council on aging or religious/community organizations.
- Give yourself a break so you can recharge. Find a way to pamper yourself, call a friend who makes you laugh, allow time for activities you enjoy, etc.
- Stay on top of your own health by keeping up with preventive care, getting exercise and sleep, eating healthy foods, etc.
- Join a support group, either in person or online, to share your concerns. You’ll get support and help someone else too.
- Talk with your employer about your caregiving situation. Find out if any accommodations can be made such as tele-commuting, modifying hours, job-sharing, etc.
Caring for yourself when you are caregiving may sound like a luxury but it’s really a necessity to manage your stress level and ensure balance. For more information about caring for the caregiver, see our newsletter.
Let Us Help
Your KnovaSolutions clinician can help you as you provide care. Whether it’s with providing information about your loved one’s conditions or helping you find the support services you need. We’ll help in any way possible and offer an empathetic ear too! Call us at 800/355-0885, Monday through Friday, 8 am-5 pm, Mountain Time.
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The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.