There will come a time when an elderly loved one needs your support. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties—they spent their lives caring for you and now you need to return the favor.
It’s one of the most difficult things you can do.
You’re essentially assuming the role of a professional caregiver despite not having any of the experience or skills required. At the same time, though, it’s one of the most important things you can do, and the health and well-being of your loved one is dependent on you.
In this guide, we’ll help you assume the role of a caretaker and provide the support that your loved one needs.
Create a Plan
The first step in the caregiving process is to create a plan and establish roles. Speak with the care recipient and other family members, open a dialogue with your own family and friends, and discuss realistic outcomes.
Your plan should include the following:
- Finances: Who will take care of their finances, do they have enough money to pay for home care services and, if their condition worsens, is there enough money to move them into an assisted living facility or senior care home?
- Who Can Help? Do you have other family members who can help you? They don’t need to be experienced caregivers and they don’t even need to provide assistance with personal care. Simply buying groceries or handling bills is enough to take some of the strain away from the primary caregiver.
- The Home: Is their primary residence capable of providing for their needs for the foreseeable future? Does it have grab bars, handrails, walk-in tubs, and other equipment that can help the caregiver and care recipient with basic needs?
- Condition: It’s important to address their condition early and to seek advice with regards to its progression. If they are weak and struggle with mobility issues, but do not have cognitive problems, they may be okay for years to come. If they are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it could be a matter of months before it progresses to something you are unable to control.
Prepare the Home
A few simple renovations can make the caregiver’s home safer and more manageable. It can also make your life and your work much easier. Consult with the care recipient and their doctor, look into their finances and yours, and see if you can get any assistance from Medicare and insurance.
Some of the things you can install in the home include:
- Bars: Simple grab bars are available for $30 or less and are easy to install, but they can make a massive difference in the care recipient’s daily life. They can be installed near the toilet, bathroom, bed, and other key places to help them when moving about the home and performing basic daily activities.
- Bathroom Additions: Walk-in bathtubs reduce the risk of bathing-related slips and falls and provide greater submergence. These tubs are even fitted with water jets to massage sore muscles. If bathing is not their thing, walk-in showers are just as accessible and can make just as much of a difference to their life.
- Lift Chairs: A lift chair is a cozy armchair fitted with a mechanism that raises and lowers as needed. The patient can sit down without a struggle and get to their feet in one swift movement. A good lift chair will last for years and not cost much more than a standard high-quality armchair.
- Mobility Assists: If they have problems getting around the home, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs can help. This equipment can be used inside and outside of the home, and there are specially designed chairs to move them from a chair to the bed or from a chair to the car.
- Safety Supplies: Most senior accidents occur in the home and, as they get more and more frail, these accidents can be very serious. This is how hips get fractured, ankles get twisted, and bones crack. It’s important, therefore, to properly secure the home by adding rubber caps to faucets and non-slip mats to bathroom floors, for example, while ensuring there are no trip hazards and plenty of bright lighting everywhere else.
Even if you feel like you can handle everything yourself right now, it’s important to get help, as things will get harder and you will struggle to manage on your own.
Caregiver stress is one of the most common conditions suffered by inexperienced caregivers. It occurs when they begin to neglect their own health in favor of the care recipient. They focus so much on providing round-the-clock care to a family member in need that they stop eating properly, lose sleep, and don’t exercise. Their social life suffers, and they become distant and depressed.
To prevent this, it’s important to stay informed about the condition and the decline and to understand what resources are available and how they can help.
Look into respite care, adult day centers, and local support groups. It can also help to know what sort of home care providers and homemaker services are available in your area, just in case you need a little extra support.
If you’re providing care while remaining in work, check with your employer to see if they offer any support. Many employers provide caregiving support programs that will make your schedule more manageable and take some of your stress away.
Essential Terms for Caretakers
As you research into caregiving and seek help about your loved one’s condition, you’ll encounter a few terms you may be unfamiliar with. Here’s a quick glossary to help you understand:
- ADLs: An abbreviation for “activities of daily living”, which refers to a series of basic tasks that an individual must perform every day, including those related to nutrition and personal hygiene
- Adult Day Services: A range of supervised services offered on an as-needed basis and available for limited periods of time throughout the day
- Assisted Living Facilities: Care facilities that are staffed 24/7 and provide a range of personal and health care services to seniors in need
- Conservator: An individual assigned by the court to handle someone’s affairs when that person can no longer manage things by themselves
- CCRCs: Continuing Care Retirement Communities are safe communities for seniors that provide some basic services and allow the residents to maintain their independence
- DNR: “Do Not Resuscitate” is an order expressing that a patient does not wish to be resuscitated following a medical emergency
- Family Caregiver: A family member who has assumed the role of a care provider to help a loved one in need
- Guardian: A guardian is one who is officially responsible for someone else when that person can no longer care for themselves
- Home Health Agency: A Medicare-certified agency that offers basic health and rehabilitation services
- Home Health Aide: An individual who visits the patient’s home to provide them with a series of essential services, including those related to personal hygiene
- Homemaker Services: Privately contracted services that help with laundry, meal preparation, and shopping
- Hospice Care: A specific type of care designed for terminally ill patients, with the goal of making them more comfortable and managing their pain
- Living Will: An official document that details a person’s desires when they reach a point where they are unable to communicate properly
- Long-Term Care Insurance: A specific type of insurance that can cover some of the costs involved with long-term care
- Memory Care Units: Specialist units, often contained within nursing and assisted living facilities, designed to help patients with advanced dementia and other memory problems
- Palliative Care: End-of-life care focused on assisting those with life-threatening illnesses
- Power of Attorney: An official document that assigns someone the right to act on behalf of someone else with regards to financial and health matters
- Respite Care: A type of care that can be provided by family members, friends, and external agencies to offer “respite” to a long-term caregiver who is struggling to meet their obligations