Summary: Caregiving, whether a short-term or long-term situation, is something best done with a plan. Learn how to create your initial plan, or a more thought out long-term plan for those dealing with more grave situations. Caregivers face many different levels of stress and knowing what is expected, needed and desired can help the patient heal and return to their normal lives. It is also important for the caregiver to take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Becoming a caregiver can leave the person filling this new role with many questions. What will this job involve? What does being a caregiver mean? Where can you find help when you need it? How and where do you even begin? When faced with uncertainty and questions, the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved one is to make a caregiving plan. Even with a plan, your loved one’s needs may change over time which may require the plan to be revisited regularly for both of your sake. Covering the basics in your plan will help you to establish a solid foundation to build your new caregiver-patient relationship.
The first caregiving plan you make will mainly depend on how you answer these five important questions.
- For whom are you caring? An aging parent, an ill partner or friend, or a disabled family member?
- What precipitated the need for care?
- Is the situation time-limited or likely to continue indefinitely?
- What care or services will the person need?
- Aside from basic needs, what does your loved one want? For example, elderly parents may want to continue living independently at home rather than move in with you or to a nursing home. How can you help the person meet these goals?
As you work on creating your plan, consider your own caregiving goals and desires as well. The circumstances for each patient will vary but making a part of your goal process to give compassion and honor to your patient will never go unnoticed. If you feel comfortable, think about discussing the above questions with the patient, as this may help to open lines of communication to fully understand what each person wants and needs.
Although, this initial plan is just that- only a place to begin. These steps can help you and your family determine the best course of action for the patient’s needs together for long-term care situations.
Step 1: Prepare Yourself and Your Family
There are important things to consider when you start caring for an aging loved one or someone in need of assistance, such as:
- Can you manage the time commitment necessary?
- Can you manage the financial commitment using your own finances?
- Can you handle the personal care tasks for your aging loved one or do you need/want professional help?
- Do you have a support system? This could be a network of others that can help you such as family members, friends, neighbors, professionals?
Step 2: Evaluate Your Aging Loved One’s Needs
You should understand exactly what your loved one will need as you begin to care for them. To do that, these questions will help organize your thoughts:
- What care is needed? What will your role be in providing care? Will you provide the care, or do you need to organize professional in-home care?
- When and how long will the care be needed – daily, weekly, or 24-hour care? Is this a short-term or long-term care situation?
- Do you have the training needed to support your aging loved one?
Step 3: Open Up Communication with All Stakeholders
Open and honest communication will be extremely valuable for you, your family, and your aging loved one. Difficult topics to communicate about may include decisions about finances, the need for others to help with caregiving, changes in health and wellness, decreased mobility, transitions of care, and more. The first place to start is to discuss the future of care with your aging loved one. Next, you need to have an open dialogue with all of your family members and those within your support network to establish next steps and put them into action.
Step 4: Form Your Caregiving Team
Putting together your care team will not be done overnight. You will need to take practical and thoughtful steps towards assembling and coordinating a team that is focused on one mission: to provide the best care possible for your loved one. Not sure how to assemble you team or who to include? Click here to get a step-by-step approach and try using Caring Village’s easy-to-use mobile app and dashboard to get you all on the same page. Learn more here.
Step 5: Establish Your Plan
With your support network established, and a deep understanding of your aging loved one’s needs – you can begin working on your Caregiving plan. To help get you started, download our Caregiving 101 Checklist.
Step 6: Implement Your Plan
Once you have worked your way through the checklist and laid out your plan, get to work on it right away. Have regular check-ins with your loved one and your caregiving team. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan based on new information and day-to-day changes.
The six steps listed above are a great starting point. As you embark on your caregiving journey, please check back for helpful articles, checklists, and other frequently updated resources. Send us your questions and comments and remember you are not on this journey alone!
Step 7. Safety-proof your home
Caregivers often learn, through trial and error, the best ways to help an impaired relative or friend maintain routines for eating, hygiene and other activities at home. You may need special training in the use of assistive equipment and managing difficult behavior. It is also important to follow a safety checklist. Consider this checklist for your own plan and needs:
Be aware of potential dangers from:
- Fire hazards such as stoves, other appliances, cigarettes, lighters and matches;
- Sharp objects such as knives, razors and sewing needles;
- Poisons, medicines, hazardous household products;
- Loose rugs, furniture and cluttered pathways;
- Inadequate lighting;
- Water heater temperature; adjust setting to avoid burns from hot water;
- Cars– do not allow an impaired person to drive;
- Items outside that may cause falls, such as hoses, tools, gates.
Be sure to provide:
- Emergency exits, locks to secure the house, and, if necessary, door alarms or an identification bracelet and a current photo in case your loved one wanders;
- Bathroom grab bars, non-skid rugs, paper cups rather than glass;
- Supervision of food and alcohol consumption to ensure proper nutrition and to monitor intake of too much or too little food;
- Emergency phone numbers and information;
- Medication monitoring.
Step 8. Take care of yourself
Although this step appears last on this list, it is the most important step! Caregiving is stressful, particularly for those caring for someone with cancer. Caregivers are more likely than their non-caregiving peers to be at risk for depression, heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses, even death. Caregivers of persons with cancer are at even higher risk for poor health. The following simple, basic preventative healthcare and self-care measures can improve your health and your ability to continue providing the best care for your loved one.
Practice daily exercise. Incorporating even a small amount of regular exercise into your daily routine can do wonders. It can improve your night’s sleep, reduce stress and negative emotions, relax muscular tension, and increase your mental alertness and energy levels. The latest research shows health benefits from walking just twenty minutes a day, three times a week. Talk to your doctor about an exercise routine that is best for you.
Eat nutritious meals and snacks. Caregivers often fall into poor eating habits like eating too much or too little, snacking on junk food, skipping meals and so on. Much of eating is habit, so make it a point each week to add a new healthy eating habit. For example, if breakfast is simply a cup of coffee, try adding just one healthy food like a piece of fresh fruit, a glass of juice, whole-grain toast. Small changes add up and can be realistically incorporated into a daily schedule.
Get adequate sleep. Many caregivers suffer from chronic lack of sleep, resulting in exhaustion, fatigue and low energy levels. Depleted physical energy in turn affects our emotional outlook, increasing negative feelings such as irritability, sadness, anger, pessimism and stress. Ideally, most people need six to eight hours of sleep in a twenty-four-hour period. If you are not getting enough sleep at night, try to take catnaps during the day. If possible, decide to get at least one full night’s rest each week or several hours of sleep during the day. If the person you care for is awake at night, make arrangements for substitute care or talk to his or her physician about sleep medication.
Get regular medical check-ups. Even if you have always enjoyed good health, being a caregiver increases your risk for developing a number of health problems. Regular medical, dental and vision check-ups are important health maintenance steps. Inform your doctor of your caregiving role and how you are coping. Depression is a common and treatable disease. If you are experiencing symptoms such as a lingering sadness, apathy, and hopelessness tell your doctor.
Take time for yourself. Recreation is not a luxury; it is a necessary time to “re-create,” to renew yourself. At least once a week for a few hours at a time, you need time just for yourself; to read a book, go out to lunch with a friend, or go for a walk.
Caregiving can be a very strenuous and stressful job. It can also be extremely rewarding and beneficial for your relationship with the patient. Above all else, remember that taking care of the patient and yourself should come first!