Feeling overwhelmed while caring for your aging parent or loved one is an all too common experience.
When you’re a family caregiver, the challenges of providing continuous care to someone you love is compounded by the difficult onslaught of medical appointments to attend, medications to pick-up, paperwork to complete, and doctors’ names to remember.
This stress can quickly lead to feelings of despair, burnout or caregiver fatigue. In some cases, ongoing stress can even lead to caregiver depression.
In fact, a recent study published by Statistics Canada reported that over one third of Canadians who provide care for their mother or father feel overwhelmed to the point of psychological distress.
In many cases, this feeling of being overwhelmed is linked to the feeling of being disorganized.
Caring for an aging parent can be particularly difficult to manage if you feel like you’re drowning in a sea of responsibilities and commitments. One missed appointment can cascade into a scheduling nightmare, as appointments overlap and specialist visits get delayed. Furthermore, feeling like you can’t get ahead can induce that dreaded g-word: guilt. You may feel distracted and rushed, and wonder when you’ll find time to spend quality hours with your aging loved one.
If so, you’re not alone. And, luckily there are some simple things you can do to fight back.
Here are some tips that can help you navigate through the chaos and relieve some stress:
1. Share the Responsibilities
Taking on everything yourself is never ideal. Managing your own commitments plus taking on the additional responsibility of caring for an aging loved one is a challenging feat.
Wherever possible reach out for help. Ask family members to help with appointments, pick up medication, or complete paperwork. Hire an extra pair of hands to support your loved one. Ask friends to cover off some of your responsibilities so you can get organized and stay ahead of the game. The more you involve others, the less you’ll feel the pressure squarely on your shoulders.
2. Have a Back-Up Plan
Isn’t it the truth that we often get ill at the worst possible time? Without a doubt, when we’re stressed and over-extended we wind up home in bed. Plus, family caregivers who are in and out of hospitals and health care facilities often are at an increased risk of getting ill.
But, as someone with caregiving responsibilities, the needs of your aging loved ones don’t get put on hold when you’re feeling under the weather. If you’re down for the count, your loved ones still need support. How can you prepare for this? For starters, keep family members or friends apprised of the needs and care requirements of your aging loved one. By doing this you’ll be setting them up for success should you need to hand over the baton for a few days. If they’re kept up to speed on your loved one’s health concerns, they’ll be ready to step in when you need a little downtime.
If you don’t have family that can help, ensure you have a back-up care provider on standby for those days that you just can’t get out of bed. Taking care of yourself is a critical ingredient to success when taking care of someone else.
3. Create a Master List of Important Information
There is nothing more stressful than losing critical information when you need it most. We’ve all had that moment thirty minutes before an appointment where we forget what doctor we’re meeting and where the clinic is located. Or, we’ve shown up at a pharmacy without the correct medical information only to have to return later that evening.
To combat this, make a one-stop-shop list of all important information related to your loved one’s needs. This means bringing together all the pieces of information into one document. You could try using headings to organize the information by topic, such as:
- Personal information
- Insurance information
- Doctors’ names and phone numbers
- Current and past medications
- Appointment history
- Emergency contact information
If this sounds daunting, start with the information you have in your immediate sights and build the list as more information becomes available.
No matter how you look at it, a master list is an incredible time saver and stress-reducer.
4. Put Important Information in the Cloud
Once you’ve made (or started) a master list, go one step further and save it to the cloud.
Not sure what the cloud is? Simply speaking, the cloud refers to the internet. Saving a document to the cloud means saving it to the internet (rather than to your computer) so it can be accessed from any computers or mobile device through a log-in.
Putting critical information on the cloud means that you’ll never lose it and you can allow family members to access it from their own computer or mobile device – whenever they need to. This will help relieve stress knowing that everyone has access to the same information. Furthermore, it can be a great collaborative tool. For instance, if your brother takes your aging mother to an appointment, he can update her medication information immediately afterwards so it’s visible to everyone who needs to know.
Want to know more?
Click here to learn more about the cloud.
If you’re ready to share your master list with others, a popular (and free) tool to check out is Google Drive.
Click here to learn more about sharing files using Google Drive.
5. Create a Shared Calendar
Another great tool for staying organized is an online calendar that has the ability to be shared with anyone you deem fit. Similar to creating a document in the cloud, a shared calendar means everyone who you grant access to will be able to view upcoming appointments and tasks. This is great for syncing schedules and marking down who is responsible for attending each appointment.
Google Calendars is a popular and simple-to-use free tool that is worth checking out.
Click here to learn how to share your Google Calendar.
6. Always Call Ahead to Confirm Appointments
An annoying time-waster is showing up to an appointment only to find it cancelled or rescheduled. To avoid this, get in the habit of calling the clinic a day or two in advance to confirm an appointment. While it will take a few minutes of your time, you will probably end up saving yourself a significant amount of time wasted in the long run.
7. Create a Daily Schedule
When multiple medications are involved it can become difficult to remember which need to be taken with meals and at what time of day they need to be administered. Creating a simple daily schedule can simplify things – for you, your hired care providers, and your aging loved ones.
This can be accomplished by posting a schedule in a visible and obvious location (such as the fridge). Or, if you’d like to go digital, you can use an app or shared document to keep things safe and available.
8. Be Prepared for an Emergency
Unfortunately, as your loved one ages, emergencies sometimes happen. Be prepared in a stressful situation by having emergency numbers posted in a visible location – preferably by a phone.
Having your master list prepared and ready to go (see tip #3 above) will also go a long way in helping you cope in emergency situations.
In times of stress, be sure to look after yourself and take regular breaks. Reach out to friends and family and talk to your family doctor if you feel overwhelmed.
9. Anticipate Future Needs
An often-overlooked element of staying organized is being able to anticipate future needs and taking action before it is crunch time.
As you loved one ages, certain things will change. They will probably need increased levels of care, assistance with mobility and potentially more medical support. It’s important to be honest with yourself about this and plan for increased time and costs. Think about lining up extra help now to ease the increased pressures that this might have on your loved ones (and you) later. It’s a hard reality to come to terms with, but planning for the future will reduce your stress levels now.
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