I have heard the word “Caregiver” plenty of times and never did I think that the word would apply to me. I used to think that people became caregivers later in life, however I am fortunate enough to be one at 33. Becoming a caregiver out of the blue at a time when you are not prepared can put you in a tough situation. However, I figured out a few tips that can help out anyone that is faced with becoming a caregiver for their parent. These things worked for me because even though My father doesn’t live too far away, he doesn’t live in the same town as me and running up and down the highway can burn you out. We all know that burn out is real and not something that you want to experience as a caregiver.
Let me give you a little bit of a back story before I go on. My Dad was the most independent person I knew and for the first time in 2016 we were placed in a situation that caused him to ask me for help. He was going into a major surgery and prior to everything when we were in preparation for surgery he says ” She is the boss”, before I knew it people were giving me all kinds of Power of Attorney forms and he was telling the people at the hospital “She can speak for me and handle my affairs”. After a few surgeries, (which will be discussed in “The VA Chronicles” posts) my independent Father, “The Old Man”(affectionate term for him) became an amputee and was in a wheelchair. I never saw this coming and it hit me pretty hard, but it has given me the opportunity to share some information with you.
Here is my list of caregiver tips (some may have a little extra info and explanation as they relate to me).
- Make sure to check your loved ones financial information, check the mail and make sure all bills are paid. I think this is one of the most important things. Upon becoming caregiver I found a couple of fraud companies/scammers were taking funds out of The Old Man’s account and he wouldn’t have known if I didn’t check and report them. Also, if your loved one may be away from home (in a hospital/rest home), speak to the service providers such as cable or satellite to see if you can put the service on hold, so that they aren’t responsible for a bill while they are away.
- Make sure that the home is accessible for them for when they return home. Check everything, if you need to have some work done to make sure that it is accessible do that. We had to have a ramp put in, furniture moved around, and things such as shower chairs, accessible bars, and other things to help him around the house.
- Make sure that your loved one has resources in place so that they can eat everyday. Food is very important. Programs like Meals on Wheels can help make sure that your loved one can have at least one nutritious meal and snack daily to help supplement their eating. I would say check to see if there is a meals on wheels program in your area or one that is similar. If not, get familiar with “meal prepping”.
- Arrange for transportation if you can. I called the county where my Dad lives and found out about their service for people in wheelchairs. He used to enjoy doing things on his own, so I knew that transportation would assist in getting him around in his town.
- Get outside help if you can. I am an only child and so I know that I don’t have any brothers or sisters to help me, but there are programs and things that you can register for to help you with caring for your loved one. Thankfully, we were able to get an Aide to come in and help him with some things a few times a week. We were also able to get in home therapy to come a couple of times a week too.
- Make Rules for your loved one to follow.This sounds funny I am sure because it’s like switching roles with your loved one, but I had to implement one major rule. My Dad decided that he wanted to go back to living alone, so the only rule that matters is this “HE MUST ANSWER HIS CELL PHONE ” and keep it near him. If I ever get to 4-5 calls back to back, I am going to assume the worst and call the police to come check on you and I am zooming down the highway at whatever speed to get to you. This rule has helped us out greatly. It helps him keep some independence.
- Make sure Doctor’s and Medical staff know who you are. Get to know the people who are supposed to provide the care for your loved one. Know them by name, just in case you ever need the information for something. Also, show up at appointments and show interest in care and treatment plans. You would be surprised the number of people who don’t have anyone in their corner, you have to be an advocate for your parent too.
- Take care of You. Self Care is very important. Take your vitamins, work out, eat healthy, go to therapy, do whatever you need to do to make you feel good. When you are the caregiver for someone your health is important because you need to be there to help your loved one.
- You will get frustrated at times. Frustration is a part of the process. It is ok to be frustrated, just try not to let your loved one see it. You don’t want to ever bring them down if you can help it. If ever anyone came around me with a cold or sickness it would frustrate me to no end, thinking that if I catch a cold, I can’t be around my loved one until I got better. Another thing that frustrated me was working with putting his wheelchair in my car. This is something that can frustrate anyone, because my car is fairly small and the wheelchair can’t go into my trunk. There were times when I wanted to cry, because I just couldn’t get it in the car by myself, but never wanted my Dad to see the tears so I would just take a moment and breathe and usually someone would appear to help me.
- Celebrate your victories. As you accomplish little things along the way celebrate them. Pat yourself on the back, you are doing something that takes a different kind of strength. It’s ok to celebrate by taking yourself to dinner or something when you accomplish something on your list, because no matter how small it may be, it is something to help out your loved one.
I will admit being a caregiver, especially from a short distance isn’t the easiest of things. Even with all of the ups and downs I wouldn’t have it any other way. With my checklist and some positive energy you can do it too.
If you have some tips to share, please do…comments are welcome.