What tips would you give to someone who is brand new to caregiving for their parent?
Being the primary caregiver for an older loved one is tough, and expectations are frequently quite high. The most important tip I can offer new caregivers is to always take care of yourself – to care for the caregiver! With that said, there are ways to relieve some of the stress, and much of it revolves around a shift in your mindset. After all, each of us can only do so much before we simply break down! One of the keys to success for maintaining a positive caregiver lifestyle is to take time away from your responsibilities and make time for yourself. Truly try to be “in the moment” and simply enjoy a hobby or other activity that allows you to lose yourself and just let go.
Even if you have the best caregiver support system, on many occasions the needs of your loved ones will become incredibly demanding (at least that’s how it feels). By taking some to time recharge and de-stress, you’ll become a more pleasant and productive caregiver. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising are all essential elements of caring for the caregiver.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind as you go through your caregiving journey:
- Develop a routine. Each morning have a glass of water, some protein and engage in light movement/exercise. This sets the right tone for each day and jump-starts your body.
- Find a hobby and really dig into it. Whether you’re reading a book, at a Star Trek convention or tuning into “Mad Men,” completely immerse yourself into something that brings you simple joy.
- Slow down. A recent New York Times article indicated that slowing down, contrary to what one might assume, helps you become more efficient. Clearly the quality of what you do is as important as the quantity of the things you accomplish.
- Eat right. It’s amazing how junk food zaps your energy and healthy food fuels the body. Don’t be too strict – otherwise eating properly just becomes another form of stress – just try to keep your meals simple, nutritious and fresh.
- Ask for help. You can’t expect your friends and family to automatically offer to help. Speak up and communicate your needs. I recently recorded a video that will help you learn how to ask your family members for help.
- Think quality. Make the most of your time when you’re caregiving. Try your best to be attentive and truly listen to your aging loved ones. Open lines of communication go a long way towards earning mutual respect.
- Utilize resources. There are so many untapped products and services available to help ease caregiver stress – use them. They range from great caregiving blog websites such as www.caresquad.com to products like the VTech Careline™ phone, which will help enhance communication with your aging loved ones and provide a little peace of mind when you are not with them.
Be sure to recognize that you still may feel overwhelmed, even when you do implement these tips and other lifestyle changes. Gaining back control of your life often relates to having meaning in your days. Of course, this is easier said than done. So don’t worry if you seem to be making positive changes more slowly than you’d like; they will all add up. The most important thing is to not feel guilty. You can’t be everything to everyone. You must make yourself a priority!
What first steps should they take to learn about caregiving?
Having been a caregiver myself for over 10 years and written the book “The Caregivers Survival Handbook” – I can promise you that being organized and well prepared is definitely one of the most important aspects of a successful caregiving journey! It’s quite likely that at one point or another we will all be faced with what is often referred to as the “impossible profession” – caregiving. Currently there are over 44 million caregivers in the United States — nearly one in four U.S. households is involved in caring for a relative or friend aged 50 or older. The average age of a caregiver is 57. Caregiving is largely a women’s issue. Some 72 percent of caregivers are female, mostly wives and adult daughters. More than one in three, however, are mature adults themselves (65 years of age and older). Caregiving can last from less than a year to over forty years. 80 percent of caregivers provide at least some type of unpaid assistance seven days a week. By 2030 one in five Americans will be at least 65, for a total of about 70 million older people, more than twice the number than in 1996. Over 100 million people in the U.S. have one or more chronic condition and over the next twenty-five years this number is expected to increase to 134 million Americans.
What are some caregiver resources new caregivers can find on the web?
Here are some important online caregiver resources for you to consult when you are just entering the role of “caregiver’ and in need of caregiving support, respite or simply someone to talk to!
Online Caregiving Resources
AARP – www.aarp.org
Assist Guide Information Services – www.agis.com
Caregiver Resource Center – www.caregiverresourcecenter.com
Caring Connections – www.caringinfo.org
Caring Today – www.caringtoday.com
Family Caregiver Alliance – www.caregiver.org
National Caregivers Library – www.caregiverslibrary.org
National Family Caregivers Association – www.thefamilycaregiver.org
National Institute on Aging – www.niapublications.org
Revolution Health – www.revolutionhealth.com
Today’s Caregiver – www.caregiver.com
Caring for an aging loved one is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have. There will most likely be times when you’ll feel that you just can’t go on – times when it seems you and your family can’t agree on anything; times when no one, including your parent, appreciates what you’re doing, yet everyone makes you feel invisible; times when you feel you just can’t pick up another prescription, schedule another appointment, lose another night’s sleep or see your parent slip further away from the strong, competent adult who once cared for and protected you. Yes, there will be times when every day, indeed every hour, feels like a struggle for survival.
It’s times like those that you must reach out for help. You must. Though it may seem hard to believe at this point in your life, your caregiving duties won’t go on forever. When your days as a caregiver have ended, you’ll want to look back and know you did the best you could for your parent with all of the resources available to you. You’ll want to know you made the most of the last days, months and years with your loved one – surviving the bad times but always remembering to seek out and cherish the good. Just as important, you will want to have a life to return to – filled with people you love, activities that interest you, and the good health to enjoy them. Your aging loved one would want nothing less for you!
What are your tips about dealing with your parent’s possessions — both if they stay in their home or if they are downsizing or moving in with you?
Having just moved to a different home — I completely understand how it feels to change locations or downsize. Letting go of your possessions is something that is very hard for all us and it can be even more difficult for someone who has lived in a particular neighborhood or house for a lifetime! I recently wrote a blog on this exact topic – it especially focuses on how to help your parent’s begin to let go of some of the “emotional ties” they have with items they’ve been hanging onto for years…even decades! But fear not, there are specially-trained “senior relocation specialists” who focus on helping older adults move with ease. They start with a pre-move consultation to help come up with a plan as to the best items to keep and those your aging loved one might consider leaving behind. The specialist makes it a very positive experience for the individual involved and makes sure they bring all of their sentimental belongings to their new home. The specialist then sets the older adult up in the new home and creates a look and feel as similar as possible to their previous home. This helps make the individual “feel at home.” If you go online and google “senior relocation specialists” you will find a helpful resource in your aging loved ones area.
If you choose to go it alone (without a senior relocation specialist) here are some tips to help ease the process of downsizing your parents current home or helping them downsize so they can move to another location (or into your home!).
1. Stay positive. Keep reminding them about all of the space they will have once they’ve “unloaded” some of the items they don’t use. Reinforce how organized things will feel. Remind them that this time of life doesn’t have to be a period of “diminishing returns” – it can also be thought of as an opportunity to make a fresh start!
2. Let the emotions flow. When it comes time to downsize a home the sheer amount of physical labor is usually enormous and it can be very emotional! So bring on the emotions! This is the opportunity for them to say goodbye to their possessions in a way that has meaning and purpose. Let your parents reminisce and celebrate all the memories. Take it all in and (most importantly) smile.
3. Take baby steps. By creating some structure and deadlines, you will most likely gain more assurance that the project will actually get done and hopefully reduce some of the stress! Bring a bottle of wine or make spaghetti in the kitchen to eat with your parents (distract them!).
Take incremental steps toward creating your goal:
First, go through the house with your parents and any available, interested siblings and make a list of everything that someone might want to take home with them (at a future time). Have a camera handy and take a photo of each item.
Second, based on a group discussion, create a system that feels fair to everyone, such as selecting items in rounds, letting each person pick one item from the inventory during each round.
Third, have each sibling pick a deadline by which they will get all their chosen belongings from the house.
Finally, go through the remainder of the items in the house and label them for donation, resale, or permanent disposal and then arrange for removal.