Remember that song from The Lion King, "The Circle of Life"? That soundtrack plays in my head these days.
As a teenager I thought, "Wow, my parents have a lot of people to take care of." We lived in New York City with one set of grandparents next door and the other set across the street. My parents had all of them plus three daughters depending on them for A LOT.
Now, I've gone from being the daughter who is taken care of BY her parents to being the daughter who takes care OF her parents. Hello, my name is Janet, and I'm a "caregiver." While it doesn't happen overnight, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed!
Today, I'm sharing 4 tips that can help as you approach the caregiver stage…
1. Have a family meeting
Warning! This will not be easy (which is why many families avoid it). Often, there will be differing opinions between the family members about care. But, if you can get everyone talking, you've accomplished a huge step. A few tips that may help the conversation go more smoothly….
- Ask the group to listen to all ideas with an open mind.
- Remind everyone of the common goal: determining the best care for your aging parent.
- Encourage discussion of differing approaches.
- Keep the wishes of the aging parent in mind.
- Agree to voice disagreement (cordially) when necessary, but in the end commit to a plan together.
2. Be prepared
If your family is like mine, organization is not their forte. We have lots of paperwork, we're just not sure where it is. Do yourself a favor and gather all your important papers and store them in a safe place that's easily accessed. This should include things like:
- Insurance documents
- A list of medications
- Doctor names and contact info
- Medical history
- Financial account information
- Legal documents such as a Living Will, Do Not Resuscitate orders, etc. You can reach out to a legal expert with the freshbenies Legal Savings program for help with these and many other services that are free or deeply discounted.
It's much easier to gather these things ahead of time rather than in the moments when you really need them. Also, keep all family member contact info in your phone and in another location that's easily accessible.
3. Get Help
Whether you need "light care" for your parents or more major assistance, it's a good idea to seek help. Perhaps your parent just needs weekly grocery shopping, laundry or other household assistance. Reach out to your local church, school or other non-profit for volunteers or recommendations for people who could provide this type of limited help.
If you do need more coordinated care, definitely reach out to an agency that specializes in elder care. I recently got expert help from the freshbenies advocacy service to find in-home care for my in-laws. My advocate researched local agencies that specialize in the specific type of care we needed. They checked the accreditation of the home care agencies and ensured background checks were completed on all the company's employees. Then, they compared prices for the services required. What a lifesaver! Expert help to do the research and credential checks was an incredible relief.
4. Make time for yourself
Taking care of an aging parent can be exhausting - mentally, emotionally and physically. Schedule time to take care of yourself. Take walks, enjoy a movie, soak in a tub, go get a massage, or schedule dinner with friends. Make a list of the things you enjoy and commit to schedule weekly time for it. And definitely make it a point to get enough sleep! You'll be no good to anyone if you run yourself down to empty.
Life is a circle, and someday most of us will face these issues. Remember to breathe, have candid conversations with family members, be prepared and GET HELP!
Now it's your turn! How have you managed caring for aging family members? What tips can you share? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.