Taking care of an older adult can be exhausting for family caregivers, who learn as they go from one precarious situation to the next. If you’re not prepared for the challenge, every mishap can feel like a one-two punch. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you feel like you could benefit from a better handle on your caregiving duties, start with these eight tips to simplify caregiving. Work on incorporating them into your life as you’re able.
1. Embrace technology
As a general rule, anything you do to organize your daily work or personal life, you can apply to simplify caregiving, says Heather Resnick, a caregiver specialist with North Shore Senior Center in Northfield.
“If you use technology, like an electronic calendar, you can have a dedicated calendar to delegate specific caregiving tasks,” Resnick says. “You can also share information with multiple caregivers through an email chain or any number of programs that allow notes and calendars to be updated by multiple users.”
You can use apps to track medication, manage healthcare, or coordinate friends who offer to help with meals or transportation. Search online for “free apps to manage caregiver duties” to find one that suits your needs.
2. Divide and conquer
Outline all the tasks that need to be done to simplify caregiving, such as setting up medication, scheduling doctors visits, and coordinating in-home care.
If you have a rotating crew of family caregivers, divvy up responsibilities, and be aware of those responsibilities so nothing gets missed, Resnick says. You may want to keep a shared notebook to jot down any information the next person on duty will need to know.
“The biggest mistake caregivers make is thinking you have to do it all yourself and it has to be perfect,” Resnick says. “Sometimes good enough is really good enough, as long as the person is safe and well cared for.”
3. Have a backup plan
If you’re relying on a caregiver to provide in-home assistance and they cannot make it, don’t scramble at the last minute to find a replacement, Resnick says. Keep a list of backup caregivers handy.
And in case of an emergency, keep a file in the home with a list of your loved one’s medications, insurance information, and important contact names and phone numbers, so caregivers or emergency personnel can access it if needed. Also note the person’s caregiving preferences and any areas they require assistance with, such as eating, showering, or walking.
Consider taking photos of all the documents and keeping the photos on your cell phone for easy access should you need it.
4. Follow a routine
To avoid problems, stick to a schedule to simplify caregiving for your loved one, suggests Jenn Howard, RN, a nursing manager with Right at Home North Suburban Chicago.
A routine is especially important for people with dementia because their brains don’t grasp change as easily as they once did. If the order of the day is disrupted in any way, the person may experience exacerbated sundowning, or agitation that stems from confusion in the evening.
But don’t take it personally, Howard says. “You have to remember it’s the illness talking most of the time and not the actual [person]. A lot of times they’re angry about something, and because you are the one caring for the person, you get verbally attacked.”
5. Get out of the kitchen
Dinnertime became a source of frustration for Elk Grove Village resident Lisa Strazzante, a busy professional juggling working from home with caring for her 78-year-old mother who has chronic illnesses and lives with her.
Her mother requires meals that are high in fat and calories, while Strazzante follows a low-fat, Mediterranean-style diet. Tired of spending too much time in the kitchen preparing separate meals, Strazzante hired a retiree to make dinner for her mother two nights a week.
The small change has made Strazzante’s life easier. “It helps me manage my time better and focus on myself a little bit more,” she says.
If hiring a cook is not feasible, Resnick suggests making dinnertime easier by trying home delivery meal kits, ordering takeout, or preparing large batches of food and freezing it in small portions for later use.
6. Prepare for emergencies
You never know when your loved one might have a health issue that requires a trip to the hospital. Plan ahead for emergencies, Howard advises, and have a bag ready for unexpected hospital stays.
Make sure the bag contains:
- A list of your loved one’s medications, allergies, and health conditions.
- Pajamas, extra underwear, and a change of clothes.
- Personal effects the person cannot be without, like special shampoo or lip balm.
- Something that provides comfort, such as a photo or blanket.
- Eyeglasses, phone, and phone charger — add to the bag right before leaving.
7. Write it down
It’s important to have advance directives in place — such as a healthcare power of attorney, living will, a Five Wishes form, or a practitioner’s order for life-sustaining treatment (POLST) — based on the person’s wishes. These directives will reduce stress and conflict between family members.
Advance directives can tell doctors what type of support your loved one wants in an emergency situation. Would they want life-support treatment? Do they want to donate their organs? Who do they designate to make healthcare decisions for them if they’re unable to?
8. Apply for assistance
If all the work of family caregivers had to be replaced by paid homecare staff, the annual cost would add up significantly, says Marla Fronczak, CEO of AgeGuide in Lombard, a non-profit organization that connects older adults and caregivers with federally funded programs. An AARP study estimates the economic value of family caregiving hours in the U.S. to be $470 billion.
AgeGuide’s Tailored Caregiver Assessment and Referral (TCARE) program provides case management services and connects caregivers to a bevy of vital resources, including training and education programs, counseling, support groups, legal services, and funding to help fill the gap for items not covered by insurance. The TCARE caregiver assessment helps determine what kind of help the caregiver needs.