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The ABCs of Caregiving
By Maryanne Curran
Throughout our lives, we each perform a
variety of different roles. For me, I have been a
daughter, sister, student, sales clerk, secretary,
coach, and a writer. The one role I thought I
would never assume is now the main focus of my life Ė
My journey as a caregiver began in 2003.
My mother was diagnosed with a rare neurological
disease. Her health slowly deteriorated. As
it did, I learned more and more about how to properly
and lovingly care for her.
When she passed away in 2008, I thought
my caregiving duties were over. But the Universe
said, ďNo.Ē My 83-year-old father got hit with one
health issue after another and again I donned my
caregiver hat. Because of this hands-on
experience, I feel confident in claiming the title of
Professional Family Caregiver.
If youíre facing the new role of
caregiver, here are some tips to help you succeed in
your new position. While many of these tips
pertain to caring for a senior citizen, they can be used
for other family members as well.
that you need help caring for your parent is hard. If
you are the primary caregiver, ask other family members
to contribute some time. Donít take ďNoĒ for an
answer. Everyone is busy. But being a
caregiver for an ill person is more than one person can
handle. All family members need to pitch in where
the bank where your parent does his or her banking.
Have your name added to their bank accounts so you may
access funds if they are not able to. Be sure to
check with a financial advisor about any tax
consequences for you.
are many resources in your community. Identify
them and use them. Neighbors, friends, and church
members are often eager to help, but donít know whatís
needed. In many towns, Meals on Wheels is
available to deliver a nutritional meal for your parent.
Delegate. As a
caregiver, you may think that you have to do everything.
Delegate activities of lesser importance to others.
It will give you more free time to deal with the
important healthcare issues.
is an emotional ride. There will be days of anger,
depression, loneliness, anxiety, and more. These
feelings are normal given the circumstances. To
balance the darker days, there will also be days of
laughter, love, and joy. Relish these days.
the daily stress of caregiving, youíll have your share
of difficult days. Forgive yourself when youíre
having a bad day. No one is perfect. Every
sunrise marks a new day. Wipe the slate clean and
start your day anew.
are a multitude of agencies that can be a great resource
for caregivers. Check www.eldercare.gov to find an
agency near you. If your town has a senior center,
thatís also a great place to start. Some states
participate in programs that provide a monetary stipend
to a family member who is caring for a senior who is
Home Health Aides.
A good home health aide can be a blessing. If
using an agency, make sure they do a background check on
new aides. Make a list of things you want the
aides to do. You may have many different aides who
cover different shifts. Writing a list of their
duties will make it easier to transition from one aide
to the next.
Understand what medical insurance your parent has.
Find out what benefits he/she is entitled to and what
will be the out-of-pocket expenses.
Join. A support group is a place where you can
share and vent. If you canít drive to one, there
are many online groups. The group members know
what youíre going through and can be a great sounding
say that knowledge is power. This is never truer
then when dealing with a health crisis. Learn as
much as you can about the disease your loved one is
facing. It will prepare you and teach you what
symptoms to watch for. If itís a progressive
illness, you can learn to identify the stages of the
illness to assist with your caregiving.
Legal. Make sure
all your parentís legal documents are up-to-date.
A will, power of attorney, and health care proxy are a
must. Consult an attorney to prepare these
will need to become an expert about the various
medications your parent is prescribed. Ask for a
90-day supply of medication. Itís often more
cost-effective and will save you some trips to the
pharmacy. Check with the pharmacist to ensure that any
new prescriptions will not affect existing medications.
Illness can often change the eating habits of both the
person who is ill and his or her caregiver. Make
sure you both have healthy, nutritional meals during
Organize. If you
were never an organized person, itís a skill youíll need
to master quickly. As a caregiver, youíll multitask more
than you ever thought you could. The caregiving
tasks may seem overwhelming. Just take one at a
time and youíll succeed.
say that patience is a virtue. As a caregiver,
this is a necessary attribute to your skill set.
Everything you want to do will take more time than you
think. Be patient.
are no dumb questions. Donít be afraid to ask
doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel any
question you have about the health of your parent.
Remember, they work for you.
Respite. If your
family member is sick, they become the center of your
familyís world. Itís vital that you find time for
yourself and get a break from your role as a caregiver.
No one works 24 hours a day. Make sure to schedule
some time to take a walk, get a massage, or even go to a
Connect to your spiritual side. Maintaining your
faith or finding the faith that you lost is a
significant coping mechanism on this caregiving journey.
Spiritual leaders will often make visits to your home to
provide spiritual guidance to both you and your loved
Talk. Talk about
your feelings about being a caregiver to someone you
trust. Talk to your loved one about their feelings
about their health. Talking makes any relationship
a closer and more loving one.
a caregiver, youíll be called upon to provide a deep
level of understanding to your loved one. Youíll
need to evaluate each situation to determine what your
parent needs. Are they looking for a shoulder to
cry on? Are they in pain? Are they lonely?
Is it something more? Youíll need to learn to
understand the cues so you can help.
Visiting nurses are the unsung heroes of the healthcare
industry. They save you trips to the emergency
room. They can treat and help diagnose a myriad of
health problems. They can get through to a doctor
immediately. If needed, they are a link to hospice.
Wishes. If your
loved one is terminal, you must have ďthe talkĒ with
them. Itís not easy, but itís absolutely
necessary. You must talk about what their final
wishes are including funeral arrangements, do not
resuscitate instructions or quality of life issues.
weíre cheating with the spelling here, but it is the
best example. We all know the benefits of
exercise. As a caregiver, exercise is even more
important. You need to maintain your own health as
well. Exercise manages stress.
You. While this
is near the end of our list, YOU should be at the top.
You, as a caregiver, will be facing a whole new world of
challenges. That makes you a special and loving
person. You are providing help to someone who
desperately needs it. You rock!
anything done well, it requires a commitment to the
project. Caregiving is no different. Address
your role as a caregiver with zeal. Be an advocate
for your loved one.
Maryanne Curran is a freelance writer
and a professional family caregiver.