Caring for an aging parent? 5 tips you should know
My Grandfather is 98 years old and my Grandmother will be 94 soon. They still live alone in their own home in my hometown in Newfoundland. Yes, that’s REALLY wonderful - we’re so grateful and love them immeasurably. But it’s also really hard. Especially for my Mother and Father who live in the same town and are my Nan and Pop’s primary helpers. Don’t get me wrong - they want to help and honour my Grandparents’ wishes to age in place, and they’re more than happy to do it, but there’s a practical reality in that it’s certainly not getting any easier. There’s no “getting used to it”... there’s no adjustment phase that you get over. Once you assume the role of caregiver, it’s a pretty safe assumption that needs will continue to become more significant as time goes on. None of us are getting any younger.
In my mind, my Mom is basically a Queen when it comes to organization. It’s a running joke in my family to move something in my parents’ home two inches to the left and wait to see how long it takes my Mother to notice. Let me tell you, it’s not long - that woman is ON IT. And thank GOODNESS she is on it, because I can see how her organization skills lend to her ability to show up for my Grandparents in ways that really improve their daily lives.
There are TONNES of caregiving resources online with lists upon lists of tips and tricks for caregivers but when it came down to my own research, I knew my Mother was my best source. She’s making it work every day and our family is hugely thankful for her selflessness, skill, and practicality. If you walk with her on a journey of caregiving, here are 5 tips to help you along the road:
1. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. The goal is always to have good days but if we keep the most challenging moments in mind and plan for them “just in case” then it can do wonders in easing the mind and making you feel like you’re not scrambling when something unexpected happens. Do you know where your loved one’s health card is in case of a medical emergency? Do you have a plan in case you get sick and can’t visit? A little extra planning can go a long way in helping you stay present - you won’t get so stuck on worrying about the unexpected because you’ll know you’ve prepared as best you can.
2. Take a leading role with healthcare. If your loved one is hard of hearing, make sure that their health providers have your phone number. Sometimes, like in the case of memory loss, you might need to take this one step further and make your phone number the only point of contact. Know where medication is stored and keep an eye on it to be sure it’s being taken as prescribed. Likewise, make note of refills so you’ll know when to visit the pharmacy or doctor.
3. Make friends with finances. The bank needs to know who you are if you are helping with bill payments and other financial matters. And rightly so, afterall, we are talking about secure transactions and no one wants to compromise financial security. Sometimes, Power of Attorney is a necessary step and in other circumstances, solutions might look like a joint account, access to online banking, or simply helping your loved one with the process if they just need a little extra assistance. It’s a good idea to help keep an eye on accounts for anything unusual and make an effort to have a discussion with elderly family about phone or internet scams. Be sure that they understand not to give any personal information to anyone over the phone or online, no matter whom they claim to be.
4. Lists for LIFE! A simple note can change the game and make your life as a caregiver a little easier to manager. An electronic list on your phone is your best bet because then you’re more likely to always have it with you. Keep track of household needs (groceries, supplies, gifts, etc.) and when you’re out and about, refer to your list to see what you can check off!
5. Establish a routine. This one tip can save a lot of headaches. It’s so easy to get stuck in a pattern of reaction - dealing with things when they come up rather than planning ahead. Taking some time to get a plan in place will not only help you stay on top of things but it can also help you identify where you might need to ask for support. Maybe Mondays are for shopping, Tuesday for appointments, and so on. The key is finding what works best in parallel with your own life so tasks and errands become more cohesive and efficient. Make sure time for yourself is accounted for - you need to take care of you too.
To care for a loved one who once cared for you is a gift. It’s a role that’s absolutely rewarding but I’d be remiss to not admit the difficulties that caregivers face. The reality is that caregiving is a challenge at the best of times and at the worst of times, it can be totally overwhelming. Caregivers are often stressed and it’s essential to understand warning signs of burnout and to know where to look for help. Stress in caregivers takes many forms; it can look like sleepless nights, anxiety, depression, changes in appetite or mood, financial pressure, and isolation to name only a few. Self-awareness and a willingness to talk openly about how caregiving affects your life, is the healthiest approach and your best defence in preventing an overwhelming experience.
Much to the thanks of my parents, my family’s hearts are full knowing that my Nan and Pop are cozy and safe where they want to be; however, I know that my parents living a hop, skip, and a jump down the street from my Grandparents affords us more freedom than a lot of families have. That’s why I’m so proud to be working with the HomeEXCEPT team. Non-Intrusive monitoring opens doors and creates the opportunity to age in place for seniors who otherwise may not be able to safely stay at home. When distance poses a problem, HomeEXCEPT can help you feel closer, and when staying home alone is a worry, a monitoring system can offer some extra reassurance. Caregivers who feel like they need a little more support, should absolutely give us a call - we’d love to help ease your mind.