Recently, I appeared on the Today show with Kathie Lee and Hoda to share some of my best tips for caregivers. The segments go by in a flash, so I thought I’d share a bit more about each of the tips I discussed on the show (see the video below).
If you suddenly find yourself in the position of caregiver for a parent, spouse/partner, grandparent, sibling, adult child, friend or neighbor, here are some things to do immediately:
- If a loved one is unexpectedly hospitalized, ask to speak with the hospital social worker and discharge planner right away — don’t wait until discharge. They will help you plan for care at home or in a nursing or rehab facility.
- Contact your local area agency on aging to find out about home and community-based services; many also offer assessments to help you put together a care plan. You can call 800-677-1116 to find yours.
- Contact a geriatric care manager, who can help you navigate, coordinate, create and even implement a care plan. Find one at the Aging Life Care Association.
- Go online to the AARP Caregiving Resource Center for information about all aspects of caregiving, and check disease-specific organizations such as Alzheimer’s Association or American Stroke Association.
- My new book, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving, has an entire chapter called Crisis Management 101 and another one devoted to creating a caregiving plan.
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Then what? Here are some ways to make it all work:
- Build your caregiving team. Assess what you can do to help, then fill the gaps with other people and services. Broaden your thinking about that team. Include family members; their friends and yours; neighbors; your faith community; volunteers through veterans groups, hospice or palliative care programs; personal care providers such as hairstylist/manicurist; paid home health care aides or certified caregivers; service and respite care agencies; adult day services centers, where your loved ones can spend part of the day; transportation services; and meal delivery. Remember that sometimes you’ll also need help for you, the caregiver, so you are freed up to provide the care that only you can/want to provide.
- Connect with other caregivers. We learn the most from each other. Join an in-person support group; your area agency on aging, caregiving organization, hospital, faith community or disease-specific organization will have a list of groups. It can be especially helpful to connect with people who are dealing with the same health issues. If you can’t get there in person, find ways to connect online through support groups, discussion groups or an online community such as AARP’s online caregiving group, which can help answer questions and boost your morale. Check Facebook groups (I’m in one called Memory People for people caring for loved ones with dementia). You can also connect with other caregivers at local or online caregiving educational events like AARP’s Virtual Caregiving Fair.
- Get organized. There are only so many hours in the day, so the only way to juggle life, work and caregiving is to get organized in terms of the information overload, mounds of paperwork, time management and team coordination. There are many basic ways to do this, such as packaged filing systems and asking a professional organizer for a consultation. But technology is transforming caregiving: There are many apps that make life easier — we’ve transitioned from a Rolodex and notebook to caregiving apps! There is one called Balance, which is specifically for dementia caregivers; CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands both help coordinate support and can share updates on your loved one’s status; and the new AARP Caregiving app helps us communicate with and delegate to our team, create medication lists by taking photos of the medication label, keep easily accessible notes of health changes, create task lists and document with images. I also use Evernote for note-taking, Wunderlist for to-do lists for all areas of my life in one place, and Grocery IQ for a shared shopping list with my team.
- Care for yourself, too. It’s not selfish; it’s practical. We don’t expect our cars to run on empty, but we seem to expect ourselves to. We need to keep filling our own tanks in order to have the energy to care for others. You’ll need quick tank fillers, like a cup of coffee, a phone chat with a friend, or a walk around the block; premium fill-ups — i.e., a few hours away from caregiving; and periodic tune-ups, such as a week’s vacation or a retreat. Also, don’t forget the routine maintenance: health checkups, good nutrition, exercise and sleep as a top priority (everything is twice as hard when we’re tired). Enlist friends and family to support you in taking time for yourself.
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You’ll find more on these and my other tips in my book and at the AARP Caregiving Resource Center. And remember, do something helpful for a caregiver today. Even small but meaningful random acts of kindness help, so please enter AARP’s Random Acts of Kindness Contest.
Amy Goyer is AARP’s family, caregiving and multigenerational issues expert; she spends most of her time in Phoenix, where she is caring for her dad, who lives with her. She is the author of AARP’s Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving . Follow Amy on Twitter @amygoyer and on Facebook .
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