For some people, becoming a caregiver is a conscious choice. Mom or Dad has an accident or suffers a medical condition like a heart attack or illness, and someone in the family must step up to take care of them. However, for some, it's a situation that slowly evolves. One week Mom needs help moving some boxes, the next she needs a ride to an appointment. The following month, she still needs help to get to the doctor, but the grocery shopping has also become too much, so you are doing that too. Before you have even considered it, you realize that your responsibilities have evolved to the point where taking care of Mom borders a full-time occupation. However, when you enter the world of caregiving, one thing is almost certain: It’s a much greater time commitment than you could have possibly realized.
Whether you are considering the possibility of being a full-time caregiver to your loved one, or you are just noticing that he or she needs a little more help, the time to consider the impact of your caring responsibility is now.
Think About Your Needs
Too often, the last thing a family caregiver considers are personal commitments. What is your work situation? How will your financial situation change if you have to work less and care more? What are your other family commitments? People in this situation have recently been classified as the sandwich generation, and the sandwich generation is facing a caregiving crisis. They’re still committed to supporting their children financially and now must care for aging parents, too.
Also, don't just consider work and other commitments. What do you need to be fulfilled personally? Caring can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. Caregiver burnout is all too real: 40 to 70 percent of caregivers show physical signs of depression. You need time away from caregiving, both social time and relaxing time, to be healthy and personally fulfilled.
Consider Worst-Case Scenarios and if You Can Accommodate
The time management involved in caring is unlikely to get easier, and unfortunately your loved one's needs are only likely to grow as he or she ages, so you have to work on the worst-case scenario. Yes, you have time to shop for Mom every couple of weeks, but what are you going to do when she needs more? What is the maximum time you can spend without dramatically affecting your life negatively? If your parent suddenly needs care through the night, how are you going to cope with that?
Think About What Caregiving Involves
Think about your loved one’s routine. Write down the help they need to get through the day.
Although every senior’s needs are different, the Family Caregiver Alliance gives a list of just some of the responsibilities a caregiver might have:
- Help your loved one out of bed
- Help them to the toilet, shower them and get them dressed
- Help them with any medical routine – injections, feeding tubes, treatments
- Remind them of medications and monitor to make sure they take them
- Make breakfast
- Offer company throughout the day
- Clean their house, do laundry
- Make lunch
- Shop for groceries
- Take them to appointments, talk to their doctors and medical professionals and sit in on appointments
- Manage their finances, ensuring that financial responsibilities are met, insurance is up to date and medical expenses are taken care of
- Handle crises
- Make dinner
- Handle any legal matters
- Change them for bed and help with any hygiene needs
- Transfer them to bed
- Be on call throughout the night for any emergencies
Of course on top of these tasks are your own, so consider the sheer scale of responsibilities you could be living with as your parent's caregiver.
Consider the Level of Care You Can Offer
Even though your intentions are the best, if you are overloaded, run down and exhausted, what will that do to the quality of care you can offer your loved one? There is a lot for anyone to keep on top of and if you aren't at your best, you may not be providing your loved one what they need.
The key to avoiding caregiver burnout is asking for help when you need it, because the reality is that becoming your parent’s caregiver is a massive, stressful undertaking. Wanting to help your loved one sometimes means helping yourself and hiring a professional caregiver to take some of the burdens and offer you respite could be a difference maker both for you and your loved one. A professional caregiver can help as often as you need them. This person can enable you to stop thinking of yourself as your parent’s caregiver and instead like family again. Besides, when your loved one is with the professional caregiver, you know that he or she is in good hands, so you can relax, avoid feelings of guilt and focus on other areas of your life.
For information on respite care, read this article.