Resources and tips for caregivers and older adults.Caregiving Made Easy is my little corner of the web where I share what I learned after years of working with #caregivers and their #aging parents. I hope my insight will help other caregivers on their journey, no matter how long they have been caregiving.
Recognize The Signs That Your Aging Parent Is Struggling With Money Management
A question that has come up a few times is, “how do you know if you need to manage your parents’ finances?” It’s a difficult topic. Finances are usually private, even among family members. And sometimes, we think we know what’s best for our aging loved one but our bias or intention may not be as pure as we think.
I’ve had people tell me that they want to step in to handle their parent’s finances because their parent is spending too freely or not being as cautious as they would like with their spending. While you may not like how your loved one is spending money, it isn’t up to you to decide what he or she does with their money unless you are certain that they’re not able to manage on their own.
So, how do you know if it is time to step in?
Stepping In To Help Aging Parents With Finances
Not everyone will need help with their finances. In fact, many people will be able to manage their finances on their own until their last days. That being said, it is a good idea to have the discussion about finances, and even moving forward to handle the legal issues surrounding caregiving, regardless of how healthy and capable your aging parent is. It will make things easier if they ever fall ill or get to a point where they can’t handle their finances.
Here are some common situations that come up that may make an adult child question their aging parent’s ability to manage their finances and whether they are valid reasons to step in.
Situation 1: Your mom has been purchasing expensive items for family members and/or close friends.
Is this a sign that she can’t manage her finances? Well, it depends on why she is gifting and how frequently she is doing it. If your mom has always been on a tight budget and has recently decided that she wants to make her loved ones happy while she’s around, there’s no reason to be concerned, so long as she can afford to do so. It also isn’t concerning if she has the means to do so and is paying her bills/managing her finances. You should be concerned if someone is coercing her into gifting large sums of money or if she is gifting money or items but can’t afford to do so.
Situation 2: Your mom is suddenly taking trips, visiting friends or making large purchases she didn’t make in the past.
Is this something to be concerned about? Well, no…unless she is going through all of her money in the process. If your mom is suddenly spending money more freely in the past, she may finally be comfortable that she has enough money to enjoy life a bit more. So long as she is able to support herself and manage her expenses in the future (meaning she’s not burning through everything now), it really isn’t your concern. While it may be frustrating because you may have been counting on an inheritance in the future, it is your mother’s money to spend.
Situation 3: Your mom has a new friend or boyfriend and she is thinking about adding that person to her will.
Is this something to be concerned about? Maybe. Does it seem like the person is coercing your mom into adding her to her will? Is your mom doing things with her money that are completely out of character. Of course, if your mom is lucky enough to make a good friend or meet a wonderful partner later in life, that should be celebrated. I would suggest speaking to your mother about holding off on making any long-term changes until the relationship is more established.
Situation 4: Your dad has piles of unopened mail stacking up and seems overwhelmed managing his budget.
Is this something to be concerned about? Yes. Your dad is likely struggling with the task of managing his finances. He may be embarrassed that he isn’t able to manage his own finances so broach the topic gently.
Before you try to step in to manage your parents’ finances, you need to think about whether you are doing it for the right reasons. Just because your parent isn’t spending his/her money how you think is right, doesn’t make it wrong.
Caregiver’s Workbook Is Packed With Resources Just For Caregivers
You may be wondering what I’ve been up to since I haven’t been posting as frequently. Well, I can finally share! I’ve just completed a Caregiver’s Workbook designed to help new caregivers get a handle on their new role. The workbook is packed with tips and resources to help guide the way. Now, rather than digging around on my website for safety and logistics tips and resources, caregivers can buy the eBook* or paperback* and have all the information they need at their fingertips.
I’m really excited to share this with all of you. I just taught a class in Los Angeles to test out the content and I’m confident it will be a useful tool for caregivers.
*Affiliate links – I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. Your purchase helps me provide caregiving resources for free.
If You Are An Overwhelmed Caregiver, Here Are Some Strategies To Tame The Overwhelm
It isn’t unusual for the caregiver’s needs to get ignored. Everyone is so focused on the caree’s needs being covered that we forget to think about the caregiver. The problem is, a healthy caregiver can get sick or have emotional or mental health challenges after being a caregiver for a long time. Constantly putting your own health and well-being aside can wreak havoc on your on health.
Sometimes, we’re so busy that we don’t even realize that we’re struggling. Think about it. Have you ever reached 3 p.m. and realized that you never had breakfast or lunch? In my case, I’ll notice I have a headache when I stop to use the restroom, but then when I get back to work, I forget about the headache until I stop again. It isn’t that the headache went away, it’s that other things were stealing my focus and I kept forgetting to stop and care for myself. I’m betting you can relate.
Signs You Are A Struggling Caregiver and Possible Solutions
If you are experiencing any of the following, you may be struggling to keep your head above water. Don’t feel guilty or like you aren’t “cutting it.” Being a caregiver to a loved one is probably one of the hardest roles you’ll have. Even if you have had young children, this doesn’t compare. Parents of young children usually have a support network of people willing to help. They also have the knowledge that their stressful situation will only last so long. The same is not true for caregivers. Most people who aren’t caregivers don’t understand what caregiving encompasses so there aren’t as many offers for help.
In addition to the lack of support, there is the emotional toll of seeing someone you love struggle. And of course, we aren’t even taking in to account that most caregivers have other demands in their life, whether it is children, work, a spouse or other commitments that are important to you. If you are struggling to keep it all together, you may need to stop and re-assess. Is everything you’re doing “mission critical?” Are there responsibilities you can opt out of or pause until you get your head above water?
Here are some common signs of overwhelm and possible solutions.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. Your purchase helps me provide free caregiving content.
You don’t have time to eat well or you forget to eat or drink water.
Find ways to make healthy eating fit into your routine. This might mean different things based on your schedule. Some things that have helped me are to pre-cook two or three casserole type meals on Sunday to eat throughout the week. I also simplify my breakfast so that I can cook something in less than 5 minutes or have on-the-go breakfast foods for the really crazy mornings. I also make sure to have health snacks around in case I don’t have time to stop for a meal.
You can also check out my post on self-care apps for caregivers for reminder apps. There is an app that will remind you to take your medication or one that reminds you to drink water.
You have frequent body aches, headaches or stomachaches.
Speak to your doctor if you are experiencing new health issues as there may be a medical cause. If they’re not due to a medical cause, they may be a result of stress. Check out my self-care tips or try to regularly squeeze in a short walk or exercise break.
You are sleeping less than 6 hours or are sleeping poorly.
Stress can cause insomnia, which is kind of crazy since that’s when we need the most sleep! If you are struggling with sleep, check out my post on sleep hygiene for tips to sleep better. You may also want to talk to your doctor about trying Melatonin. We use it in my house when one of us is having a tough time winding down and can’t seem to fall asleep.
You’re short-tempered, anxious or feel like you’re constantly under stress.
First, know that anxiety, frustration and anger are perfectly normal caregiver emotions. Don’t feel embarrassed that you sometimes (or maybe more than sometimes) experience these feelings. If you are concerned that you feel these issues more than what you deem “normal,” consider a visit to your doctor to discuss the possibility that you may be depressed. While being a caregiver doesn’t automatically result in depression, it isn’t uncommon for caregivers to experience depression, given their circumstances.
You’ve stopped socializing with friends or other family members either because you don’t have time or you don’t feel like socializing.
Is the reason you’ve stopped socializing with friends or family due to time constraints or is it due to feeling like you can’t relate to them anymore? Determining why you aren’t socializing helps you figure out how to move forward.
If the issue is that you don’t have time, I suggest inviting them to come to you or be part of what you are doing. For example, if you need to run errands, reach out to a friend to see if he/she wants to join you. Or, invite a friend over for dinner. You have to eat anyway. If you are stressed out that your house doesn’t look right or you need to clean, etc. etc. etc., I highly recommend this book. It helped me get over feeling like my home needs to be perfect before opening it up to others and the feeling that I need to be the one to do everything.
If your reason for not spending time with friends is that you can’t relate to your friends anymore, I suggest finding friends who are in a similar position. This post talks about making friends as you’re older.
At the end of the day, you feel like you haven’t done one single thing for yourself or had one single moment alone. You may also feel like you’re constantly running from one place to another or jumping from one task to the next without a moment to breathe.
This is a tough one. Likely, you don’t have a lot of free time to focus on yourself if you are a caregiver. That’s where creativity comes in to play. Are there shortcuts you can take that will give you more time? Are there tasks you can delegate? Do you have a caregiver network? Doing those things might give you a bit of time back, which you can use to practice self-care (even if you only have 5 minutes).
If it has been so long that you don’t even remember what it feels like to do things you like, start small. Pick up a good book and start reading. A few books I have loved include: “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” “The Goldfinch: A Novel” (this is a long book so you can enjoy it for a while), “A Man Called Ove: A Novel” and “Orphan Train.” You can also try learning something new or attempting a free fitness or yoga routine courtesy of YouTube.com. You can find more self-care suggestions here.
If you are experiencing any of the issues above, first know that you are not alone. Many caregivers struggle with the same issues. Of course, that doesn’t make it any better and no one wants to live like that long-term. Luckily, there are some ways to combat caregiver overwhelm. Do you have any remedies that have helped you deal with overwhelm?
Different Types Of Self-Care For Caregivers Are Best For Different Situations
We all know we need self-care. It has become such a buzzword that it has almost lost its meaning. As a caregiver, it is even more important to fill your cup. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. But how do you fill your cup when you don’t have free time, and even if you have a few minutes, which type of self-care should you practice?
Did you know there are different types of self-care? You can practice self-care for your physical well-being, your emotional well-being and your mental well-being. Sometimes we need one type of self-care more than another. For example, when I’m under a lot of stress, it is far better for me to go out and take a walk than to listen to music. A walk helps me burn off that stressed out energy. By contrast, when I’ve had a long day of taking care of the needs of others, I need some quiet more than I need to do something physical.
Deciding Which Caregiver Self-Care is Right For You
If you’re struggling with fitting in self-care, it helps to already have self-care acts and tools ready to go so that when the opportunity presents itself, you’re ready. I’ve built a small arsenal of self-care tools to help me wind down when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and I highly recommend it. Having to come up with an activity when you’re already overwhelmed just adds more stress to your caregiving shoulders.
Physical Self-Care for Caregivers
I find that physical self-care is most effective when I’m under a lot of stress or overwhelmed. When I used to work in a high-stress field, I would leave work almost shaking because I was so stressed out. The best solution, which I didn’t always employ, was a trip to the gym or a long walk or run. If you’re feeling so stressed out that your brain is racing or you can feel your heart beating faster, you may need to employ some physical self-care.
Here are some of my favorite types of physical self-care. You don’t have to spend a lot of time to reap the benefits. Your walk can be one time around the block or a one-mile loop if you have time. You can dance to one song or five. You get the picture – it isn’t about how long you practice physical self-care, just the fact that you’re doing it!
Take a walk
Play dance music and have a private dance party
Practice yoga (check out YouTube for free videos of various time frames)
Take a long, hot shower (or bath)
Take a nap
Mental Self-Care for Caregivers
Sometimes our brains need a break. If you’re spending a lot of time doing mental work like budgeting, handling medical paperwork or researching complex medical issues, you may need a mental re-charge more than a physical re-charge.
Here are some simple things you can do to mentally re-charge.
Read a light book (I like to call romance books brain candy)
Read a magazine or browse around on Pinterest
Do a crossword puzzle or word search
Color (there are loads of free coloring pages on the internet or you can buy a fun adult coloring book at your local dollar store)
Listen to relaxing music (my favorite free online radio station is the “Spa” station on Pandora)
Emotional Self-Care for Caregivers
The act of caregiving is inherently emotional. The fact that someone you love needs caregiving support is difficult to handle in the best of circumstances. It is also stressful trying to coordinate caregiving with managing your own life and there is little time left over to focus on your emotional needs. Long-term emotional stress can lead to health challenges, so don’t discount your emotional needs.
Here are some simple things you can do to emotionally re-charge.
Reach out to a friend or family member (make sure it’s someone who builds you up, not brings you down)
Make a playlist of songs that make you happy and play them whenever you’re feeling down
Find a quiet place and meditate, or just slow down and breathe
Limit contact with non-critical people who are draining or “Debbie downers”
Plan a get-together with someone you enjoy spending time with – just anticipating your get-together can lift your spirit
As you can see, most of these physical, mental and emotional self-care acts don’t take much time or money. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive to work. It also doesn’t have to be more work to be valid. The point is to spend a small amount of time doing something just for yourself. As a caregiver, you constantly do things for someone else. It is important to take some time for yourself to preserve your well-being.
In mid-December, I went in for surgery. It was supposed to be one surgery, but in the end, I had three surgeries in three weeks. I also had the flu in between my surgeries. My second round of surgery was a far more difficult recovery. I’m not sure if it was difficult because the surgery was more invasive, or maybe I wasn’t completely healed from the first surgery. It could also have been more difficult because I have an autoimmune disease and Fibromyalgia, which make healing more difficult.
Whatever the case, it has been close to two months of being a caree. I had a tough time getting around. I couldn’t drive for a chunk of time. I couldn’t do much for myself since I had physical restrictions from the surgery. I’m a really independent person so this period was unbelievably difficult for me. I needed to rely on others for caregiving support and I didn’t like it one bit.
Before my first surgery, a good friend gave me a card with this quote:
“There’s strength in needing others, not weakness.” – Emma Thompson as Dr. Rosshilde in Burnt
As someone who prides herself on her independence and strength, this was just what I needed to hear. This was the first time I have truly needed to ask for help, even though I’ve had almost a decade of living with a painful autoimmune condition. Usually I’m able to push through and make things work, but this time, I was seriously limited.
What Your Caree Is Feeling
I’ve been a caree off and on over the years, but this is the first time that I truly was limited in what I could do and had to ask for help. Let me tell you, it was hard. Extremely hard.
If you are dealing with a difficult caree, part of the difficulty may be due to their frustration. If your loved one was once a strong, independent person, it can be incredibly difficult to suddenly need help. The more caregiving support they need, the harder it may be to accept.
We have an idea of what we are capable of in our heads. When our bodies don’t cooperate, it can be frustrating. And if you’re frustrated about your inability to do things that you used to be able to do, you may express that frustration by lashing out at those who are closest to you. You can resent the caregiving support, even if you know it is in your best interest.
For example, my mom stayed with us to help with the kids. She insisted on taking my kids to school. This was in my best interest because it was difficult to drive after my surgery and parking is tough, which means we usually walk a block or two to get to school. It also was beneficial because the last thing I needed was to be around germs while recovering. While I rationally knew this was what was best for me, it was incredibly frustrating to not be able to do what I should be able to do.
If your loved one is struggling with health issues while his/her contemporaries are still active and healthy, it can be really frustrating. Watching everyone get to live life how they want to while you’re limited or dependent on others can be depressing, particularly if the prognosis is long-term. It’s one thing to go through a health challenge knowing that soon enough, you’ll be back to your old self. If there is no end in sight, it can be frustrating, at minimum.
Helping Your Caree Accept Caregiving Help
If your caree is struggling with accepting caregiving support, there are some things you can do to help make it more bearable.
Anticipate their needs. One of the most difficult things for me was having to actually ask for help. I’d rather just skip whatever it was I needed than verbalize my need. Dumb, I know, but for someone who is independent, it can be hard to ask for help. Now, I know you’re a caregiver who already has a lot on your plate, so I’m not suggesting you cater to their every need, but doing certain things that you know they need without waiting to be asked goes a long way. For example, my mom made smoothies and had some of my favorite foods ready to go in the fridge. I didn’t have to say I was hungry, I could just get what I needed without requesting help. Little things like bringing in the mail or stocking toiletries or the panty goes a long way.
Lay low. While I obviously knew that I needed some caregiving support, I didn’t want to feel like an invalid. One thing that helped was that my caregivers didn’t make a big deal out of the things they were doing for me. Things just got done. I know that my mom was cooking meals for me and my family and cleaning up around my house, but she was doing it so subtly that it was kind of just happening in the background. When my mom specifically offered to do something for me, it felt intrusive, whereas, when she just quietly did things, I appreciated the help without feeling helpless.
Let them lead. The first few days post surgery, I was able to do very little. I needed a lot of help. However, things got better and I started feeling a bit resentful that my caregivers weren’t “letting” me do things I was able to do. Let your caree take the lead. If he/she wants to make a sandwich, let them, rather than racing to do it for them. No one wants to feel like an invalid who can’t do anything for themselves. While you may think that you’re being helpful, they may get frustrated because there are some things they just want to do for themselves. Of course, if it isn’t safe for them to do so, find something that is safe for them to do for themselves.
I’m very fortunate that my need for a caregiver had an end in sight. I was diagnosed with early stage cancer that required surgery and I will take medication to keep its return at bay. I can now start returning to my norm, which still involves an autoimmune condition (that is in a flare because I couldn’t take medication for two months) and Fibromyalgia. While those issues aren’t a walk in the park, I’ve been living with them for a long time and know how to manage them without needing much support.
Living with illness and needing caregiving support from others is really hard. I know being a caregiver is also really hard, but it is a different kind of hard. No one wants to feel like an invalid. No one wants to have to depend on others for basic or not-so-basic needs. If your caree isn’t treating you the way they should, understand that they may be struggling too. It may seem like they have it made, having people who love them enough to want to help them but it is also really difficult to ask for – or accept – that help.
Health Changes Caregivers Can Make Today For Their Overall Health
If you are looking for ways to improve your health but are overwhelmed about how much time it will take or how expensive it will be, I’m here to help! I know that as a caregiver, you don’t have a lot of time or money to dedicate to your own well-being. I also know how detrimental this can be to your long-term health.
Making health changes is easier when you do one small thing at a time. If you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to do it for yourself, you can do it for both you and your caree. You can both get healthier together!
If it has been so long since you’ve focused on your own health, you may not even know where to start. I went through a stage where I was resentful about my chronic illness so I stopped eating healthy since I used to eat healthy and ended up with an autoimmune disease anyway. Silly rationale, I know. Once I started taking better care of myself, I felt better about myself. It didn’t necessarily cure me, or affect my chronic illness, but it makes me feel good to know that I am taking care of myself.
How To Make Small Health Changes
Here are some simple things you can do that don’t cost a lot of money but can improve your health.
(This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you.)
Get more sleep. I’m guessing you are sleep deprived. Most caregivers are, so you probably fall in that group. However, sleep is critical to health. If you struggle with sleep, check out my post on sleep hygiene. You can also talk to your doctor if you are truly having a tough time. My doctor recommended Melatonin supplements for nights when I’m really struggling. One caveat, you shouldn’t take it nightly for an extended timeframe as it will affect your body’s ability to produce melatonin on its own. I have also had luck with ZzzQuil (by the makers of Nyquil but without the medication part). Proper sleep hygiene is best, but if you are still struggling, you may need a little help. I know I sometimes do!
Snack healthy: If the thought of cooking healthy meals when you’re busy is overwhelming, start with healthy snacks. It’s easier to eat healthy snacks since they don’t require as much prep. You can snack on fresh fruit, raw vegetables (think carrot sticks, snap peas, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers), yogurt (try plain yogurt with honey and fruit), nuts or hummus and carrots or even cheese sticks. None of these snacks take a lot of time to prepare and they aren’t that much more expensive than processed foods.
Get moving. You don’t need to start hitting the gym for an hour every day to get the health benefits of exercise. As little as 15 minutes a day can impact your health in a positive way. If you don’t even know how to start an exercise routine, start with a walk around the block. If that is too much for you, park your car at the back of the grocery store parking lot. Don’t get overwhelmed at the idea of exercise, just do it. Some things I’ve started to do are setting aside time for a long walk on weekends, doing stretches before bed and doing the 37 minute “gentle yoga” routine on my cable network’s OnDemand programming. Not one of these things cost money or takes more than 37 minutes. I also can do them at home, which is especially important to busy caregivers.
Cut back on one unhealthy habit. I am a sugar junkie. I admit it. I love chocolate and have no intention of giving up chocolate, even though it isn’t the healthiest habit. However, I have cut back on my candy eating significantly. I now stick to one piece of chocolate a day (if that), rather than handfuls throughout the day. If you have an unhealthy habit, rather than trying to cut it out cold turkey, consider cutting back. Maybe, eventually, you’ll cut it out or cut back so drastically that it becomes a treat.
Health before treats. As I mentioned, I love chocolate. And candy. And cookies. When I’m stressed, I stress eat. If you are in the same boat, you can try what I’ve started doing. If I’m stressed out and want a piece of candy, I make myself eat a piece of fruit first. Sometimes, I don’t need the treat, sometimes I do. But at least I’m eating less treats. I’ve also started drinking a hot cup of tea that tastes a bit like dessert after dinner. It cures my craving for sweet most nights.
Find ways to de-stress. If you are constantly living with stress, it could have a negative impact on your health. While you probably can’t eliminate your stress (it’s not like you can get rid of all of your obligations), you can find ways to decompress. I started doing yoga when I was under a lot of stress and needed something to clear my mind. It worked wonders. I also have the free Calm mindfulness app on my phone and use it whenever I’m stressed out. If those options don’t appeal to you, pick up a new hobby, pick up an adult coloring book or find simple self-care to do at home.
Making healthy changes doesn’t have to be that hard. You just need to start with baby steps and work your way up to the bigger changes, depending on your current lifestyle.
I’ve always had a relatively healthy lifestyle so I don’t need to make big changes, but I understand the challenge when you are starting from ground zero. My husband didn’t have good health habits when we got married and falls back on his old habits when he is under stress. We try to make little changes at a time so it doesn’t feel so difficult.
The Importance Of The Doctor/Patient Relationship For Your Aging Parent
One of the little known challenges with aging is that your doctor is also aging. At a certain point, your doctor that you know and trust will retire. Many of my clients encountered that issue and it was extremely hard for them to find the right doctor. If you are caring for an aging parent, at some point, they’ll need to start seeing a new doctor. If they have a chronic health condition, they may have to replace many doctors.
If you are healthy, you may not think it’s a big deal to lose your doctor. However, your aging parent may have been going to the same doctor for years, even decades. They’ve established a relationship and your parent probably trusts their doctor’s judgment. It can be hard to find a new doctor who you connect with, trust me. Before I had a chronic illness, I rarely went to the doctor. It really didn’t matter who my doctor was, since I only saw her once a year (at most) for an allergy medication prescription. Now, I know how important it is to have a team of medical doctors that are right for you since I see them at least once a month.
Finding The Right Doctor For Your Aging Parent
If your aging parent needs to find a new doctor due to retirement or insurance changes, here are some of my tips for finding the right doctor.
Start with the general practitioner.
I can’t express enough how important a good general practitioner is. I LOVE my general practitioner. I trust her judgment and appreciate that she watches out for my overall wellness. That being said, she isn’t for everyone. My husband doesn’t like her as his doctor because she is very direct. He wants a little more of a nurturing bedside manner, while I appreciate a doctor who gives me the information I need without sugar coating it.
Finding a general practitioner whose personality and skill fits your aging parent’s personality is critical. You want to find someone who they can trust and have a good rapport with as it is important that they are honest with their doctor about changes to their health.
Find the right specialist.
This is a bit tougher to do since your choices are limited by insurance and available practitioners. That being said, try to find the best fit for your aging parent within their limitations. They’ll spend a lot of time with their specialist if they have a long-term medical condition. For example, I go to my rheumatologist every three months when I’m not in an active flare and as often as every two weeks when I am struggling. That is a lot of time with a doctor.
In addition to making sure personalities gel, you want a specialist whose medical philosophy you and your aging parent agree with. For example, my first rheumatologist was very science driven and fully relied on medication, not lifestyle changes. I have a very similar mindset so it worked for me at that time. My current rheumatologist is more holistic and open to naturopathic treatments and Eastern medicine. Six years ago, that would have been off-putting to me, but after living with a chronic illness for nine years, I’m much more open to alternative treatments. It is important that your aging parent finds someone who they trust and agree with to ensure that they are following doctor’s orders.
Consider the office staff.
The doctor’s staff is almost as important as the doctor. Do they help schedule/reschedule appointments? Do they assist with insurance issues? Do they assist patients with mobility or cognitive challenges?
Sometimes a great doctor can have terrible staff. For example, my OBGYN is fantastic. I love her. She delivered both of my sons. That being said, her staff is terrible. The nurse has lost blood work on more than one occasion. Since she isn’t my general practitioner, I was willing to overlook the staff issues and stick with her. I would not be able to overlook that with a rheumatology office since I am there so often and have so much more to keep track of (prescriptions, exams, etc.).
The doctor’s support staff is critical to your aging parent’s care. They are the ones who pass on messages, follow up on prescriptions and process results. This isn’t an area to overlook.
Qualities Of A Good Doctor For Your Aging Parent
As someone who spends a lot of time in the doctor’s office, I know a lot about what I think makes a good doctor. Here are some of my favorite doctor qualities:
This seems like a no brainer, but you’d be amazed by how many times I’ve heard of doctors dismissing patient concerns or pain.
Up-to-date. There are constantly new treatments or medical findings and it is important that your aging parent’s doctor is up-to-date on what is new with your condition.
Willing to jump through hoops. If your aging parent has a chronic health issue, they will at some point have a medication or treatment denied by their insurance. It is important that their doctor/medical office will fight back to make sure they get what they need.
Open to new ideas/treatments. I really appreciate that my rheumatologist is open to various treatments and alternative methods. In fact, many times, she will try things herself before recommending it to patients. Chronic illnesses are complicated and difficult to manage so it is helpful to have doctors who are open to a variety of treatment options.
It is important to have a solid relationship with your doctor. If your aging parent isn’t comfortable with his/her doctor, or you feel that the doctor isn’t treating your parent’s condition properly, it is perfectly OK to switch.
Make Your Caregiving Duties Run Smoothly With A Command Center
Caregiving requires organization. Few caregivers have only one obligation – caring for a loved one – so juggling all of the tasks and managing your own life requires some serious organization. If you aren’t organized, you’ll become frustrated, stressed out and possibly drop a few balls here and there.
Of course, many caregivers are thrust into their role without much planning and it can be hard to create an organization system that will work for your family on the fly. If you were thrust into caregiving and are trying to figure out some sort of organization system, I highly recommend creating a Caregiver Command Center. It’s much less complicated that it sounds. Essentially, it is a space in your home where you house your caregiving life.
In my home, I have two small “Command Centers” since I don’t have any one large area to keep our life on track. One area is dedicated to knowing where everyone needs to be and the other is dedicated to housing whatever we need to get out the door. For example, my youngest son had picture day at school and my husband needed to take the order form. It placed it on the shelf near the door, under his wallet and keys so he wouldn’t forget it. Having drop zones as part of your Command Center will ensure that you don’t forget something important as you rush out the door.
Creating A Caregiver Command Center
Every home and family functions differently so you’ll need to decide on what will work best for your family. That being said, there are essentials that everyone needs to remain organized. Here are some elements to include in your Caregiver Command Center.
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Central Location or Command Center Zones: The best way to stay on top of your caregiving tasks is to have a specific home for all things caregiving. In my case, since I’m in a very small home, I have two “zones” where we keep important information/things. I use the outside of our kitchen pantry door as our information center. I keep a calendar, cork board and dry erase board there and keep any important paperwork that is needed for appointments on the board until after the appointment. I also have a zone near the door where we keep our keys. It has hooks for bags and backpacks and a small shelf to keep paperwork that we need to take with us. If you have a larger area, you can store your caregiving medical file and any related paperwork for your caree (applications, vendor contracts, etc.).
Keep A Visible Master Calendar: I keep an electronic calendar on my phone, but I also use a wall calendar decal so that everyone can see what we have going on. I also use different colors for different activities since I want to make sure we don’t miss them. I love using a dry erase calendar since appointments/activities get canceled and I don’t want a calendar full of scribbles. I also have a calendar on my phone so that I can make appointments on the go. It is much easier to schedule a medical appointment while you’re at the office, versus waiting until you get home to call.
File/Paperwork System: Every time I go to the doctor, I get a post visit summary and occasionally, a referral to another doctor. I keep referrals pinned to my cork board until I make the appointment and I have a file for medical paperwork. That way, I don’t have to spend a ton of time searching for what I need. If your caree has a medical condition, I highly recommend creating a medical file where you keep all of their paperwork. If your command center is big enough, you can keep the file there, or do what I do and only keep paperwork that requires an action in the command center and file everything else in a specific location.
Contact List: I had a client who had a list of every phone number she could possibly need taped to the wall next to her phone. It was a fantastic idea as she had dementia and had many caregivers in the home who might need to contact someone on the list. In addition to a family contact list, you should have a service provider list (think plumber, electrician, cable provider, etc.) and a medical contact list. Keeping everything on one list makes things easier when you’re in a hurry.
Medications/Supplies: If you live with your caree and are tasked with their medication, it may be helpful to create a medication space in your command center. If you don’t have space, then make a small medication zone where you do have space (preferably not in the bathroom as some medications lose effectiveness in humid spaces). I have a section of my kitchen counter dedicated to my vitamins (I take a lot) and a pretty tray on my dresser to house my prescription medication. Everything is stored in those spaces so I know exactly where they are. If your caree has special instructions for certain medications, or a specific schedule to keep to, print it out and keep it in that zone.
You may have other elements to your caregiving that you will want to add to your command center. The thing about organization is that it has to work for you, so it may take a few tweaks to make your command center work for you. I have changed my systems over time as my needs change. The key is to create a workable system for your caregiving situation.
A To Do List To Help Caregivers Make Themselves A Priority
When we are busy, one of the first things to go is self-care and health maintenance. There are only a few hours in the day and if you are a caregiver, you know those hours get filled very quickly with tasks to do for others.
One of the reasons we never get around to ourselves is that we don’t tend to schedule it in to our day or make it part of our routine. Another reason caregivers skip out on focusing on their own wellness is because after handling the care of everyone else, they just don’t have the energy left to do one more thing.
Creating a caregiver wellness to do list can help you remember to care for yourself. You’d be surprised by how little time you actually need to do things for yourself once you get into the practice of self-care.
I used to think I don’t have time for exercise because I am literally busy caring for other humans and/or working from the time I get out of the shower in the morning until 8:30/0 p.m., at which point, I’m pretty wiped out. I have started carving out up to 40 minutes each day to do a yoga video. I discovered a Gentle Yoga video on my cable TV OnDemand that only takes 37 minutes. I do that when I have the time, but yesterday, I had an unexpected doctor’s appointment so I had to skip my 37 minute routine. Instead, before bed, I went to YouTube.com, searched for “Gentle Yoga” and found a bedtime yoga video that was 19 minutes. The best part is, it made me nice and relaxed for bed.
Caregiver Wellness To Do List
The most effective way to make sure you take care of yourself is to put your self-care on your to do list. If it has been so long since you’ve done anything for yourself, here are some self-care items you can add to your to do list.
I’ve created a caregivingmadeeasy_wellnesstodos for you to fill in with the self-care tasks you’d like to schedule into your day. Hopefully this will help you put your own self-care at the forefront. Here’s a tip – if you assign each day of the week an activity, you are more likely to do it. For example, you can assign Monday “Meatless Monday” or Wednesday “Walking Wednesday.” That way, you know that on Wednesday, you always carve out 10 minutes to go for a walk. Just remember, it takes six weeks to create a habit so don’t give up on yourself if you can’t make it happen right away.
Health To Dos for Caregivers:
Here are some health tweaks you can do daily (or just a few times a week) for yourself that can add up to positive changes in your well-being over time.
Take a 10 minute walk in the morning.
Take a 10 minute walk in the evening.
Do a short stretching routine before bed or when you wake up.
Eat one vegetable with each meal. If you don’t have time to cook vegetables, purchased pre-chopped vegetables that can be steamed in the microwave in just a few minutes.
Make one day per week meatless.
Snack on fruit or a healthy serving size of nuts like almonds or walnuts.
Self-care To Dos for Caregivers:
Try to do at least one of these small self-care acts each day or at least once or twice a week.
Stop and breathe. Take a few minutes to practice this simple breathing technique: Inhale for a count of 8, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 10. Repeat at least three times.
Get some fresh air. Go outside for at least 10 minutes. Stop, sit in a chair or take a walk – just breathe in some fresh air.
Do a mindful meditation. If you find that you have a tough time with meditation, try a guided meditation. You can find several on YouTube.com – just type guided meditation and pick one that appeals to you.
Do something indulgent. Is there something you like to do that takes a lot of time so you don’t do it anymore? Try to squeeze it in once a week. In my case, I paint my fingernails, which forces me to sit still so that I don’t ruin my nails.
Use luxurious products. If you can’t take a lot of time to do your nails and wait for them to dry, use some nice quality products for everyday tasks. For example, use a really nice hand cream or shampoo. Purchase high quality sheets or buy nice comfy slippers. Buy an item or two that makes you feel happy when you use it.
Engage your brain. Do something that will stimulate your brain like read a book, do a crossword puzzle, listen to a podcast or read a magazine.
Watch a TV show you enjoy (or a movie if you have extra time) or spend some time with an adult coloring book or a hobby you enjoy.
Caregiver Health Maintenance To Dos:
These to dos aren’t necessarily daily, weekly or even monthly, but be sure you’re staying on top of these general health maintenance activities. Note, this is where having a caregiver network comes in handy. Having others able to step in on caregiving allows you to take time to maintain your health.
Schedule these appointments well in advance, preferably at the same time of year so that you’re less likely to forget them.
Visit your general practitioner once a year for a physical/routine check up.
Visit your dentist once every 6 months.
Stay on top of vaccinations, especially the flu vaccine.
Stay on top of typical screenings (these are just suggestions – speak with your doctor about the frequency of your screenings):
Colorectal cancer screening (every 10 years)
Prostate cancer screening (annual)
While this entire to do list may seem overwhelming, remember, this isn’t a “do everything on the list” to do list. This is just a guide to help you choose wellness activities you can add to your to do list to make sure that you are caring for yourself. Even if you just add one task from each list to your life, you’ll make a tiny improvement in your life.
Many caregivers feel that there just isn’t time to care for themselves right now so they’ll do it later. The problem is, most caregivers are in their role for three to five years. Additionally, the caregiving required at the end of the journey will likely be more time and emotionally consuming than it is in the early stages. If you don’t take time to care for yourself throughout the process, at the end of your caregiving journey, you may be left with your own set of health problems.
If you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, try to remember that the person you are caring for loves you and wouldn’t want to see you sick or unhappy. They would want you to care for your own needs. You would too, if the situation was reversed. You don’t have to spend hours and hours on yourself (although that is perfectly OK if you do), just commit to making small changes to your life.
How To Keep Going When You Don’t Have Caregiving Motivation
There are times when everyone has a lack of motivation and slacks off for a while. The challenge for caregivers is that since caregiving is constant, lasts a long time and is somewhat self-driven, a drop in motivation can cause some serious issues. At best, there are messes and piles of laundry to deal with; at worst, slacking on caregiving duties can impact your loved one’s health.
If you are struggling with motivation, it can be hard to get back in the swing of things. Before you get down on yourself over your lack of motivation, step back and consider where the lack of motivation comes from.
If you have one of the bigger issues above, you will need to address it in order to move forward. It is incredibly hard to keep pushing through when you are dealing with an issue like depression or burn out.
Tips To Regain Caregiver Motivation
If you struggle with getting motivated to do caregiving tasks, here are some ways you can get your caregiving mojo back.
Get organized: Keeping a to do list or creating a schedule can help you power through caregiving. Sometimes, just having to figure out what to do next can be overwhelming so having your to dos written out takes the pressure off of you.
Get help: If you haven’t asked for caregiving help before, now is the time to build your caregiving network. Whether you enlist your siblings, other relatives, friends or hire a paid caregiver a few hours a week, bringing in support can help you get your caregiving motivation back.
Shake things up: You may be lacking motivation because sometimes, caregiving can feel monotonous. If you are struggling with motivation because you’re feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, make some changes to your routine. Perhaps you and your caree go to the library once a week to take a free class or read magazines. Maybe instead of making lunch every day, you go to the senior center for lunch or have lunch with a friend or neighbor once a week. Find ways to change up the caregiving routine so that it doesn’t feel so monotonous.
Focus on the positive: If you are struggling with motivation, focus on the positive aspects of caregiving. Reframe your perspective. For example, instead of thinking, “I have to do …” think, “I get to do this for my loved one. This is a gift.”
Practice self-care: If you have been reading my blog, you probably knew self-care would make the list. When we feel better, we are able to take on more. Self-care can help improve your motivation because you won’t feel like all you ever do is give to others. I know it can be hard to squeeze in self-care, but there are so many low cost or free things you can do from home that anyone can squeeze it in. Just the other night, I was fried after a long day but before bed, I visited YouTube.com, typed gentle yoga in the search box and picked a 20 minute bedtime yoga routine. It was free. It was easy. I felt a million times better afterwards. Don’t skip out on self-care because you’re tired or busy.
Take a step back: Sometimes, when we’re really busy, we focus on the tasks and not the people. If you are losing caregiving motivation, it may be helpful to take a step back and remember why you are doing it. Spend some non-caregiver time with your loved one. If it is in your budget, consider bring someone in to handle some of the household or caregiving tasks that you don’t enjoy – even if it is just for a few weeks until you get your caregiver mojo back.
Everyone loses their motivation now and then. The challenge with caregiving is that if you lose your motivation, important tasks may fall through the cracks. While it can be hard to pull yourself out and get back at it, remember that caregiving won’t last forever. One day, you will look back at this time and be thankful that you had this time with your loved one.
If you haven’t yet, check out my Zazzle store to purchase caregiver affirmations. You can put them on your nightstand, in your handbag or on your refrigerator so that you can refer to them when you need a quick pick-me-up.