Elderly Parents at Home: 5 Tips to Consider When Caregiving
Are you taking care of elderly parents at home? Being a caretaker to an elderly parent or loved one is not easy. It's challenging, whether you are taking care of them at home or not. Plus, there is an added layer of difficulty when there is a role reversal. You are the child. But now you find yourself having to tell your parent when to eat, reminding them to take their medication, tracking their bathroom habits, and the list goes on.
You say "be careful" or "go slow" as they struggle to get up out of one chair and into another that's just in the next room. You follow your loved one around the house, making sure he or she doesn't fall. You go behind them, cleaning up any mess. You pick up empty wrappers, bottles, or the tissue or napkins that seems to pile up in every corner.
You take them to their doctor appointments. You get their favorite snacks, and you learn to pick your battles. You second-guess yourself, wondering if you are making the right decisions. You want them to be comfortable and safe. You want to obey their wishes, but sometimes that means making tough decisions about their healthcare. They may want to stay at home. You may not be sure how to pull that off. They want to drive, but the last time they did, they spent more time looking out the window rather than focusing on the traffic, causing them to slam on their brakes and barely miss hitting the person in front of them. Too many close calls leave you wondering if now is the time to take the keys away, so they don't hurt themselves or someone else.
Visitors come for 20 minutes and say that they are doing great. They wonder why you are there. But they don't see your loved one's demeanor before or after their visit. They don't know about how depressed they seem, the daily struggles, and near-miss falls. They don't understand how they are putting on a show for their friends - acting one way and then another with you when the door is closed.
Taking care of your elderly parents or anyone at home is not for the faint of heart. In my case, it was my grandparents. Here are five tips to consider when caregiving for your aging parents or loved ones. These tips are not an exhaustive list. These are general tips for you to think about as you start or continue on your caregiving journey.
Talk with Someone
Caregiving can feel like a heavy burden. It's essential to have an outlet when you are going through this kind of season in your life. Do you have someone who you can talk to vent? Ideally, this would be a person who is not involved in your everyday life, for example, a best friend, another family member, counselor, or even a caregiver support group. You want to talk to someone who has a little distance from your situation. Maybe they experienced something similar. Regardless, you want a person who will let you vent without fear of judgment, criticism, or the need to tell you how to fix it. Call, text, email, or better yet, see them in person if possible. The goal is to have someone you trust to be your sounding board, cheerleader, and confidant.
During my caregiving days, running errands would sometimes feel like a vacation. It was a chance to leave the house and getaway. Any change of scenery felt like a much-needed reprieve. But this doesn't count as a break or respite. After all, running these errands is part of being a caregiver too.
The dictionary defines respite as a delay, cessation of time, an interval of relief. Essentially, this is time away from the daily activities of being a caregiver. Your respite break <link to article> may be a few days, a couple of weeks, or even longer, depending on your situation. The bottom line is you need a break too. When you are taking care of someone else, you put your own needs aside. You may be able to do this for a short period; however, if your situation is more long-term, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and more.
Should you become completely burned out, it could lead to mistakes when it comes to your loved one's health. If you can schedule time for a break, it will allow you to be fully present so that you can continue being a kind, loving, and patient caregiver.
Ask and Say 'Yes' to Help
Do you find it difficult to ask for help when you need it? Do you downplay how exhausted and tired you are when caring for your loved one? Asking for help is always easier said than done. I speak from personal experience on that one.
You never know what each day will hold, and it's overwhelming to think too far ahead. Sometimes even thinking about the next day or week is too much. You are concentrating on what they need or trying to make sure they don't fall.
Let me say it like this: You are too focused on keeping them alive to worry about anything else.
In these instances, you are not thinking about calling or texting people to ask if they can help out. Besides, when you ask for a small favor, it seems like you always get pushback from others. Maybe it's not convenient for them, or they make excuses, so why even bother. Occasionally, you might find a family member or friend offering to bring over food or mow the yard. Sometimes they may even do this without asking, which is always a Godsend.
Even if you want to ask for help, what's the best way to go about it? Be specific with your request. Do you need someone to cook on Saturday? Do you need someone to run to the grocery store to pick up 1 or 2 items? Do you need someone to come over while your loved one is napping so you can get out of the house? Do you need help with cleaning or yard work?
Perhaps your loved one was recently in the hospital. They are about to come home, and you need some help getting the house ready or running errands to get the prescriptions or any medical equipment required.
Or perhaps you need some time to run some personal errands or go to your doctor appointments. In these situations, you may want someone to come over and stay with them, so they aren't left alone. You could call a family member, friend, pastor, etc. If you can ask for help in advance, it gives them time to make any changes to their schedule, and it minimizes stress for all parties involved.
If you need help, ask for it. Be specific. Try to plan ahead, if possible.
When people offer to help, it can sometimes feel like it's adding to your plate. It may feel like it adds more stress, indeed of reducing it. Chances are they are offering because they see how you are overwhelmed and stressed out. If they genuinely want to help, let them. If they offer to cook for you one night and it's not going to work for whatever reason. Let them know that you have it covered for that day, but they could bring food the next day or next week.
Remember, people who offer to help care about you and your situation.
Are you organized? Have you created a system when it comes to your loved one's day-to-day care? Whether you are new to caregiving or have been doing it for weeks, months, or years, it's important to organize everything as much as possible.
Every situation is different, so you want to create a system that works best for you, your loved one, and anyone else involved in the decision-making. Here are some questions to think through:
What do you use daily? This about this from your loved one's perspective and yours.
What does your loved one ask for regularly? Examples: tissues, napkins, drink coaster, pen, paper, remote control. Do they have access to those things if they are sitting in one room or another? Or do they ask you for it 100 times per day? Could you make it easier on yourself by having some of their most requested items near their seat in each room as long as it is not a safety hindrance for them or you?
Are your medications all in the same place? Maybe the medication bottles are all in the same cabinet, but could you group them in a way that makes them more accessible? Do you have a pillbox organizer for each day of the week? We would group AM and PM medications. We would also write AM or PM on the top of each bottle. Do you have a medication list handy so you know what you need? Do you have a notepad close by so you can write down any medications that might be running out soon in case you need to call for refills or call the doctor for an additional prescription?
Are any additional medical supplies grouped together and easily accessible? If they are doing physical therapy, are the exercise printouts easily accessible? Are the stretch bands or any other equipment they might need in the same room? If they are on oxygen, are all the extra oxygen tubing, cannulas, and water bottles all in one place? If they check their blood pressure or blood sugar, do you have everything together along with a notebook to record their numbers?
When it comes to caregiving, being organized is a huge time saver. You'll want to find ways, big or small, that can help you be efficient and make life easier.
Have all personal information readily available.
Speaking of being organized, you will want to have all personal information readily available. Depending on your situation, you may have multiple trips to different doctors and specialists a week. Or you may have home health workers coming to your house. They could be physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, nurse aides, and the list goes on.
Whatever the case may be, you'll want to have your loved one's personal medical history<link to medical records post> along with any legal documents such as a DNR at your fingertips. Preferably, all in one place. You don't want to be caught off guard and not have the information you need to answer any questions. You don't want to be digging through multiple desk drawers or hunting in different rooms for doctor's notes, prescription lists, or medical history information when home health workers are there.
Being organized helps you answer questions with confidence, gives you peace of mind, and lowers stress when you are already going through such a difficult time. Plus, it's a sign that you respect the time of all healthcare workers by being prepared as much as possible.
Want more details? Check out this article on how to create a personal medical history and what to include.
Each caregiving situation is different. You may be taking care of your elderly parents at home, or they may be at an assisted living or nursing home facility. Regardless, none of it is easy. It impacts your entire world, so you must have things in place that make life a little easier. You have to find out what works best for you and your family's needs.
Whether you are a caregiver newbie or a pro, these tips are things to think through wherever you may be on your journey. If it all seems overwhelming, start with one thing. What's one thing you can do that will make your life easier? Start small. Know that you are not alone and find someone you can talk with that will support you during this challenging season.