Being a caregiver is stressful, and it's vital to your own well being that you structure your days to provide the best care with the least amount of stress on both you and your parent.
Are You Your Parent's Caregiver?
At Daystar Retirement Village, we are privileged to work every day with loving and compassionate adult children who are concerned about and involved in their parents’ health, safety and comfort. They show their compassion and love in diverse ways, but it’s common for these family members to check in with their parents, and maybe with us, often. They accompany their parent to doctor appointments. If their parent no longer drives, they plan regular outings, either to take care of errands or simply for pleasure. When their parent experiences a sudden change in behavior, they are quick to notice and look for possible causes.
In a very real sense, they are caring for their parent, but few of them would describe themselves as “caregivers.” In their minds, I think, they are just doing the right thing, doing what needs to be done. They are simply being a good son or daughter.
In our experience, there seems to be a reluctance on the part of adult children to describe themselves as “caregivers” unless their parent is aging at home and they are the primary, hands-on caregiver.
The Importance of Acknowledging Your Role as Caregiver
According to research published at The Gerontologist, they may be doing themselves a disservice. The problem, researchers say, is that, even with its many rewards, caregiving exacts a toll. Yes, being a 24/7 caregiver presents special challenges, but researchers have found that even part-time caregiving can cause significant stress and lead to poor health.
Once an adult child self-identifies as a “caregiver,” that can open up opportunities to access a range of services. “Employers, community agencies, national organizations, and (your) local and federal government offer services to help caregivers, but first you have to know you are one,” said Next Avenue columnist Sherri Snelling, chief executive of the Caregiving Club. “By speaking up and saying ‘I am a caregiver,’ you will find resources that can help you care for your loved one.”
The Difficulties of Being a Caregiver
While most people assume that the stress of caregiving is directly related to amount of time spent doing hands-on tasks, at least some research suggests that’s not the case. A UCLA-led study published in The Gerontologist found that caregivers are more like to take part in “negative health behavior,” which they defined as smoking, consuming more fast food and sodas, and being sedentary—and that those negative effects did not correlate with time spent providing care.
Interestingly, researchers found similar negative effects among caregivers who live with their parents and those who visited once a week.
The message here is that if you are an adult child of an ailing parent, and you are trying to provide care yourself or arrange it through service providers, you are also a “caregiver” and you should acknowledge the important work you are doing. Even better, you should look into the various support services, support groups, or resource centers that might lessen your stress and allow you to maintain your own health while caring for someone else’s.
How a Caregiver Should Structure Their Day
The key to avoiding chaos in the life of a caregiver is to plan ahead as much as possible. Here are some tips on structuring your caregiving routine:
1. Schedule One Week at a Time
While a structured day may be your goal, no day stands alone. Start planning your schedule a week at a time so you have all upcoming appointments blocked in on the appropriate days. Then make a list of your daily activities and duties, noting any differences, such as Wednesday being your sister's turn to take care of Dad. Get a notebook with sections and label them according to your needs. For example, if Dad has diabetes you can use a section to indicate readings, times, and meals so that whoever is in charge at the moment has a handy reference for all vital information.
Make a list each day and prioritize the items. Get in the habit of jotting down things you need to have, do, or learn so they don't get forgotten if you have a hectic day.
Don't put things off. Procrastinating often makes a chore harder and more complicated, so do the little things as they come up.
Don't plan on perfection. As your caregiving load increases, you may need to ease off on other things, so don't lose sleep over dust bunnies.
Pay attention. Live in the moment and don't worry about the multitude of other chores that may be hanging over your head.
2. Schedule Time for Yourself
Whether it's a family member, friend, or neighborhood "sitter," you need to take personal time to replenish your energy. Plan time out for exercise, reading, or some other type of relaxation so you don't burn out from caregiving.
3. Have a Weekly Care Meeting
Go over any appointments, changes, or other issues with anyone who is involved with your parents' care. If you have a visiting nurse, try to include him in your meeting or take detailed notes so he's up to date at his next visit.
Define each person's duties and roles. This will avoid duplication and save time.
4. Avoid Repetition
Get in the habit of putting things away immediately so you don't have to touch them twice. Instead of dropping that receipt on the counter, file it or shred it. Declutter so you spend less time looking for things and organize your home and caregiving routine.
5. Don't Worry About Detours
A big part of caregiving is meeting the ever changing circumstances, from a fall in the tub to a trip to the emergency room. If your plans get smashed let it go, because tomorrow will be another day!