How Caregiving Can Affect You
Join a Support Group
One way to get help is to join a support group. Other caregivers can share with you what they're going through and how they manage to cope. There's nothing like advice from those who have been there. Just about every disease has support groups that have professionals who provide solid, technical information about the disease and steps you can take to treat the condition. If your parent suffers from dementia, I can't recommend highly enough that you join an Alzheimer's support group. If joining a group isn't for you (at least give it a try), take advantage of the Internet and do your research on your parent's disease and join a chat room or discussion board of other caregivers.
Here are some tips on finding a support group:
- Most local hospitals offer community education programs and host support groups. Call the hospital's public affairs office to find out their offerings and schedule.
- Under Associations in the Yellow Pages you'll find the names of organizations that are dedicated to a particular disease, such as the Heart Association, Diabetic Association, Cancer Society, Stroke Association. Give them a call to track down a support group.
- Contact the National Alzheimer's Association (1-800-272-3900) to find a chapter located near you.
- Call Children of Aging Parents (1-800-227-7294) for information and referral services.
Involve Other Family Members
Usually, in the beginning, family members will be gung-ho on helping out. But then as time wears on everyone gets too busy. So, involve them early and set up the expectation that this is a family affair even though Dad is living with you. Give out-of-town family members tasks, such as tracking down medical information on the Internet, making calls to set up appointments, or shopping around for medical equipment. I highly recommend using e-mail--the family can be on a group list, and you can give weekly updates on what needs to be done and how Dad is doing. Someone can handle insurance matters or find community services that can assist you, another can order supplies and durable medical goods. Ask family members to identify blocks of time when they would like to visit Dad. Explain to them that you would like to use this time for you to get away. Even if it's a day trip, it's important for you to be away from your caregiving responsibilities. If you have family who live in the same area, then set up a weekly schedule of when they'll come to visit to relieve you.
Take Advantage of Community Services
A wonderful book that can help you through the challenges of caregiving is by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Helping Yourself Help Others. It's a warm, easy read, inspiring, and full of resources and practical advice.
Many area agencies on aging offer family caregiving support programs that can assist you in caring for your parent. Call the Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) to find out if your local agency has such programs. If you work and find it difficult to handle meal preparation, call the local Meals on Wheels office. If this option doesn't work, there are many new catering businesses sprouting up to meet the needs of the baby boomer generation on the go.
Whenever a friend or family member says, "Gee, I wish I could help," rather than simply thank someone for the offer, take that person up on it! How about responding with, "You know what would be a great help ... making Dad dinner some night next week." Or, "If you'd like to sit with him for a few hours, it would give me a chance to get out." Most people simply don't know what to do, and they'll appreciate the suggestion.
Whenever someone wants to give you a gift, think of things that make your life less stressful, such as being treated to a housecleaning service or even a massage. Take the time up front to make these arrangements--it will be well worth the effort.
Rather than focus on your parent, identify the things that would make your life simpler. Would a taxi service make it easier to transport Mom to and from the doctor so you don't have to deal with the hassle of parking? How about a cleaning service coming in once a week? Find a pharmacist who delivers, so you're not running out to get prescriptions. Or find a grocery store that delivers--many are taking orders from the Internet these days. Get your hair done, have your nails manicured, get a massage, go out to lunch, see a movie--whatever makes your life better must be a priority. It's oxygen!
The other avenue to get help, of course, is to hire it. Be sure to go over What Your Parent Needs for information on hiring help that's appropriate for your mom's level of care. If your siblings are wondering what they can do to help out (or need to be given a hint), get them to pitch in for home health care. Perhaps giving your dad a bath is downright dangerous for you--he's paralyzed on one side and is overweight. It might make sense to have a professionally trained person come in once a week and assist with the bath. If your parent constantly keeps you up all night, it might make sense to have someone come in to cope with his night wanderings so that you can get some sleep. Sleep deprivation is something that most caregivers experience, and it places them at great risk for physical problems themselves. I remember all too well my own exhaustion; I had just gotten the baby to sleep through the night when Grandma started to stay up through the night. And she wanted to be with me. After a few weeks of this, we hired night help. But as you can imagine, this became pretty expensive.
Be sure to check with your local area agency on aging to learn of any programs available to help you with homemaker services, chore services, and home health care. Ask your parent's physician if he or she knows of any services to assist you in your caregiving. Let the doctor know what you are dealing with at home and see what home health care he or she can prescribe.
More on: Aging Parents
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents © 2001 by Linda Colvin Rhodes, Ed.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.