Third of a Four-Part Series on a Basic Approach to Caregiving
by Kim Keller
Caregiving is a delicate balancing act. Chances are very good it will be one of the most difficult and overwhelming experiences of your life. And it may well be one of the most rewarding experiences, too.
To effectively manage the care of your parent or other loved one, there is one thing we know for sure — you’re going to need help, especially if you can’t be there all the time, and even if you can, you’ll burn out in no time without assistance. Sharing as many responsibilities as you can is essential.
First, you’ll need to get organized, and the best place to start is by assessing your parents’ or other loved ones’ ability to care for themselves. Next, you’ll need to figure out what specific tasks must be addressed.
The third step, the basis of today’s article, is to figure out what resources are available to you. Here are some ideas to consider:
- What friends and family do your parents or loved ones have nearby? Do they have neighbors whom your parents (and, by extension, you) can count on? Can any of these people lend a hand? Don’t be shy about asking for help. Most of the time friends and neighbors don’t want to impose but are glad to help out.
- What in-home care options do your parents have? There’s a huge range of services available from a number of agencies, from companions and housecleaners to health aides and nurses. Ask around among your parents’ friends and neighbors for recommendations about the best in-home care providers. Take a few minutes to read In Care of Dad’s “Let’s Talk About In-Home Care.” You’ll find ideas and a handy questionnaire to give you a head start when vetting agencies. The Internet is also bound to have ratings and comments about local providers. Your local church or synagogue may have ideas as well.
- What community resources are available to your family? For starters, call the local city or town hall to get seniors service information. Investigate any volunteer programs that may be associated with local churches and synagogues. Many congregations offer free services such as respite care, transportation to doctor visits and other appointments, meal preparation, and general errand running. Another idea is to call a local senior center because they tend to have all kinds of useful information.
- An all-around useful resource is Eldercare Locator, which is a public service run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging. It provides all types of senior service information both national and local. Check out their website at eldercare.gov or give them a call at 800-677-1116.
- Would an emergency-alert service be useful? After our dad died, and our mom had a stroke, we signed her up for emergency-alert service with a company called Response Link. They provide her with an alert button, which she wears around her neck, and a two-way communication device for her home. It costs $38.95/month. There are many terrific services available — we happened to choose Response Link because it was recommended to us by a friend. Another idea is to call your local hospital and ask if they are connected with a service. Here’s an important tip: avoid any service that requires you to sign a long-term contract. If you’re interested in Response Link, their phone number is 877-258-1518, or you can check out their website at responselink.com.
- Many emergency services also provide telephone alerts, such as medication-reminder calls, wake-up calls, appointment reminders and wellness checks, for a small additional charge. Response Link, for example, offers the telephone alerts for an additional $10/month.
- The Alzheimer’s Association provides free care consultations to develop care plans for families. Their service specializes in caring for those with dementia, but they also are able to help families dealing with other illnesses. This is a great resource. Call their 24/7 hotline 1-800-272-3900 for more information.
- Do you need a more dependable way to deal with dispensing medications? Then consider an automatic pill dispenser. We recommend the Med-Time dispenser, with 28 compartments for pills and the like, so it can handle a variety of medication routines without the need for constant refilling. As the Med-Time website points out, taking the right meds on time is as important as what meds are being taken. The dispenser also has an easy-to-use timer system that’s adjustable for each routine. Here’s a link: Med-Time Automatic Pill Dispensers from epill.com.
- Need a basic caregiver guidebook? One of our favorites comes from the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, and it’s called the Family Caregiver Handbook.
- If it’s not possible for your parents to remain home, then refer to our basic guidelines that can be found at In Care of Dad’s “Care Options, Nursing Home” section.
We found that accepting help was difficult. There were two reasons for that: One, it was hard to give up control. We had a certain way that we liked things done (yes, we’re control freaks at heart), and two, we felt like we were imposing on others. The best lesson we learned was: You can’t take on all of the responsibilities for caregiving all by yourself, it’s just too much and it will wear you out. And the other lesson, just as important: It makes people feel good to help. You’re not only getting assistance, you’re letting someone else express their love and concern. So let them help.
On Thursday, In Care of Dad will present Step Four of the Caregiving Basics: Keeping the Information Organized.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.