Use these tips to help caregivers juggle working, caring and everything else.
Sometimes caregiving can feel like an endless to-do list: running errands, cooking meals and doing extra laundry, helping another person get dressed, go to the bathroom or shower, managing medical tasks like changing wound dressings and giving injections. It’s hard to remember your own needs when you’re taking care of someone else.
You’re not alone in this caregiving journey. There are 43.5 million* family caregivers in the United States and a third of these caregivers are “higher-hour,” providing more intensive care for an average of 62.2 hours each week. With the time you spend caregiving, how can you better prepare yourself to care for your loved one and yourself?
Learn about care coordination
Family caregivers often coordinate healthcare for their loved one by communicating between doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Even so, as many as one in four caregivers have difficulty with this type of work. To complicate matters, the Internet is teeming with health misinformation. Successful care coordination starts with finding trustworthy medical information and tools that can help you keep the information all in one place.
- Find trustworthy resources:
Look for websites authored by the government (such as healthfinder.gov), not-for-profit medical organizations or university medical centers.
- Talk with your loved one’s health team: Go with your loved one to their doctor appointment and ask questions about their health and how to manage it. If you’re being asked to take on a task that you’re not sure if you can handle, let the health team know so that they can make recommendations for other resources that may help.
- Use caregiving-specific resources: The United Hospital Fund of New York offers the Family Caregiver’s Guide to Care Coordination, which describes how caregivers can coordinate healthcare for their loved one and provides tips on how to stay organized.
- Use technology to help you care: Many new mobile and web-based apps help support the work of caregiving by putting information about your loved one all in one place. Talk with your loved one’s health insurance provider to find out if they offer an electronic health record for caregivers. Private companies also offer free caregiving apps to help coordinate care, such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Caring Bridge and CareZone.
Get help with caregiving activities
You’re likely doing a mix of caregiving activities. Most caregivers (59%) help their loved one with at least one Activity of Daily Living, which are personal care tasks such as getting in and out of beds and chairs. Many help with Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, such as transportation (78%), grocery shopping (76%), and housework (72%). Six out of every 10 help with medical and nursing tasks.
When these tasks become overwhelming, community resources can help. Area Agencies on Aging or Aging & Disability Resource Centers provide support, including transportation, home-delivered meals and other long-term care services. Many states offer caregiver-specific resources such as respite care through the National Family Caregiver Support Program. You can find out more about these resources at eldercare.gov or 1.800.677.1116.
Talk to your employer about working and caregiving
Six out of 10 caregivers were employed at some point in the last year while caregiving, and more than half (56%) were working fulltime while caregiving. Many had to make work accommodations due to caregiving, such as cutting back work hours or taking a leave of absence. Some even received a warning about performance or attendance. If you’re in this situation, talk with your employer about your needs as a family caregiver.
- Have the conversation: Ask your manager about whether your workplace offers resources like flexible work schedules, emergency time off, care management services or on-site eldercare. The ReACT Toolkit can help you start the discussion.
- Understand existing benefits: Many employers have “Employee Assistance Programs” (EAPs) that provide benefits related to caregiving such as counseling and referral. Check with your Human Resources department to find out if you qualify. Federal law provides leave for caregiving for children, parents or spouses under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Remember that you are most helpful to your loved one when you are in good health and spirits. Taking small steps for yourself can ease some of the burden and improve the care you’re able to provide.
- Take care of your health: Don’t forget your regular checkup and annual immunizations, as protecting your own health is the first step in helping your loved one with theirs.
- Ask relatives and friends for help: Friends and family members in your immediate circle may be able to offer additional help. Convene a family meeting to discuss the challenges you’re facing and see what others can do to lighten the load.
- Seek out support groups: Support groups, both online and in-person, provide a way for you to make new friends with others who are on the caregiving journey. Many disease-specific organizations offer online support groups. There are caregiving-specific support groups at Caring.com, CareGiving.com, and the Well Spouse Association. Empowering yourself with information and resources can help shorten your own caregiving to-do list. Managing the stress of caregiving and reaching out for support can help improve your relationship with your loved one and the impact that caregiving has on your life.
* The statistics referenced in this article are from a joint report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP
Gail Gibson Hunt, is President and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving, a non-profit based in the Washington, D.C. area. The Alliance’s mission is to support family caregiving through research, innovation and advocacy. To learn more, visit caregiving.org or caregiving.org/caregiving2015 for the statistics used in this blog post.