Don’t Neglect Any of These Five Important Steps
Whether you’re taking care of a family member full-time or just beginning to anticipate a need, the American Association of Retired Persons recommends a series of five steps to make the process easier for both you and your loved one. Just take it one step at a time.
1. Start the Conversation
Ask your loved one about their wishes, values, and preferences on things that matter, from health to finances. If you wait until a fall, accident, or serious diagnosis, your choices may be more limited, more difficult to evaluate, and made hastily under stress.
Look for an opening. Rather than bringing up a tough topic out of the blue, it can help to point to a newspaper story or a relevant comment as a conversation starter. (Example: “You mentioned your eyes are bothering you. Is this causing problems with reading or driving?”)
It can be hard for some people to admit they need help. If your first conversation doesn’t go well, gently try again. Listen to and respect your loved one’s desires. If you are repeatedly shut out, consider asking another trusted family member, friend, or doctor to approach them about your concerns.
2. Form a Team
Don’t go it alone. Trying to handle the responsibilities of caregiving yourself can lead to burnout and stress-related health problems. It’s important to form a larger network of friends, family, and community resources to help you. Remember to consider your loved one part of the team.
Then, decide who’s in charge. It’s important to have a point person to keep the process moving and make sure everyone on the team understands the plan and priorities. In most families, one person assumes the primary role because he or she lives nearby, has a close relationship, or simply is a take-charge person. That may be you.
Also, consider a mediator. It can be useful to engage an unrelated facilitator, such as a social worker or minister, to help keep everyone focused, manage potential disagreements, and communicate difficult subjects when meeting with your team.
3. Make a Plan
Now it’s time to work with your team to develop a plan. You can’t anticipate every detail or scenario, but being forward-thinking now will help you respond more quickly and effectively in an emergency. It also helps assure that everyone keeps the focus on what’s best for your loved one.
You’ll need to determine roles. Ask your caregiving team members about what tasks they can and are willing to take on. Who is free to travel to medical appointments? Who can prepare meals a few times a week? Who can be responsible for bill paying?
Finally, summarize the plan in writing. A written record will assure everyone is on the same page and help avoid misunderstandings (while remembering, of course, that the plan will likely change as time passes).
4. Care for Your Loved One
This step encompasses the others, of course, and every caregiver’s situation is different. But there are a wide range resources and tools that can make your job easier, whether you’re caring for a parent from another state, a spouse with a long-term illness, or a family member with dementia.
Advocate for yourself. Let the doctor know if you are the primary caregiver and need to be informed about your loved one’s condition and the treatments prescribed. Ask for training on procedures you’ve never done at home, such as injecting medication or changing bandages.
If the person you’re caring for has more difficulty getting around or their vision or hearing fades, implement some simple changes to make their home less hazardous. Consider installing things like handrails, grab bars, nightlights, and adjustable shower seats.
5. Care for Yourself
It’s easy to forget about your own needs, which is why caregivers are more likely to report high stress levels and suffer from depression and other health problems. Don’t neglect exercise, sleep, and healthy eating, and take time for activities you enjoy. You’ll need to keep up your energy and stay well to care for others.
Understand that your personal finances can take a hit from family caregiving — which might require time off of work, cutting back on hours, or passing up promotions, as well as paying for things like groceries and prescriptions for your loved one from your own pocket. Also, find out if your workplace will accommodate your working from home part-time or making certain adjustments to your schedule.
Finally, give yourself a break. Sometimes caregivers feel guilty about taking time to have fun. Find ways to reduce your stress and enjoy yourself.