One day you may find that someone you care about — a spouse, parent, relative, or close friend — needs help negotiating the daily tasks of life. Perhaps that day has already come. Close to 49 million informal or family caregivers offer assistance of all sorts to adults in America, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Their efforts are vital to the lives of people struggling with illness, disability, or the changes that often accompany aging.
The information in this report will assist you in meeting the needs of the person you care for while attending to your own. The first chapter focuses on ways to organize and accomplish daily tasks. The chapters that follow describe financial, legal, and medical information that’s vital to caregivers, as well as a special section devoted to caring for yourself as you navigate caregiving challenges. Throughout the report, you’ll also find plenty of resources and tips designed to improve your loved one’s life as well as your own.
Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Anne Fabiny, M.D., Chief of Geriatrics at the Cambridge Health Alliance and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Suzanne Modigliani, L.I.C.S.W., C.M.C., Geriatric Care Manager, Brookline, MA. 49 pages. (2012)
Scouting the path ahead
Change is one of the few certainties of caregiving, and experts advise caregivers to evaluate their situation early and often. Settle on a plan, but realize that circumstances are bound to change. Reassess your plan every few months if the situation is fairly stable, or from week to week if the outcome is unclear. As time goes on, you may need more assistance than you initially thought, such as additional help from family members or outside services. If possible, always keep a step or two ahead by asking experts for their best assessment of how the situation might change in another few weeks, months, or years.
Negotiating goals that everyone involved can embrace can help make necessary changes achievable. Elderly parents, for example, may long to continue living independently at home rather than move in with you or to a nursing home. With this in mind, what are the best ways to improve their daily life and enhance their abilities? How can you best support their independence? What care or services will they need to meet these goals?
Changes may be more palatable if they make it possible for a person to stay in a well-loved home or return to it after hospitalization. One option might be hiring someone for three to four hours a day to help an older parent or relative get going in the morning and remind him or her to take medications. Alternatively, you might only need to check in frequently and set certain services in place, such as yard work and snow shoveling, bill paying, grocery shopping, or delivery of hot meals. Or you might need to consider how to make the bathroom or other parts of the home more accessible to enhance the person’s mobility.