Learn how to juggle obligations, save money, and care for yourself from people who do it every day.
Family caregivers spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care. If the caregiver lives with the loved one, that number jumps to 40.5 hours. That’s a lot of time, so getting it all done and staying strong yourself requires planning and support.
Make a tough job a little easier with these expert tips for caregivers.
1. Cluster Doctor Visits
“We try to schedule as many appointments in the same week as possible,” says Rebecca Foreaker, a nurse from Lehighton, Pennsylvania, who cares for her 84-year-old grandmother. “We write down any questions for the doctors and usually schedule any ordered tests ASAP.” Dragging it out is more stressful for both the caregiver and loved one, she says.
2. Organize a Schedule for Meds
Making pharmacy trips or tracking mail-order packages can eat up a lot of time. Work with your loved one’s doctor and pharmacist to get all medications on the same 90-day refill schedule. Then turn to a weekly morning and evening pill organizer to keep track of doses, Foreaker suggests.
3. Save Money on Medications
Ask doctors if there are generic versions of prescription drugs, and don’t be afraid to ask for samples and coupons. Google the name of any prescription and the words “coupon or promo.” Sign up for prescription savings of up to 40 percent (and other discounts) at WholeHealth Living Choices. Another good resource: needymeds.org, an online resource that can help people save money on medications.
If your loved one is unable to stick to their treatment for any reason, including cost, let their doctors know. Stopping medication or changing doses on your own can cause serious health problems.
4. Know What Your Community Provides—and Use It
“There are many services out there, such as Meals on Wheels, and adult day services,” Foreaker says. Your loved one may even qualify for a home health aide. Check with your county’s agency on aging, which you can find at n4a.org.
And don’t forget about transportation services. CareRides, a partnership between caregiver network CareLinx and Lyft, provides nonemergency transportation for older adults. Similarly, Uber is working with health organizations to develop more options for seniors.
5. Make It a Family Affair
Foreaker often brings her children to her grandmother’s home and lets them help with vacuuming or organizing the refrigerator. “It gets things done, and she likes giving them a few dollars for it—it makes her feel good,” Foreaker says. Plus, it’s time Foreaker can share with her children, not away from them.
6. Find Solid Support
“I stress to caregivers that they should seek support groups for the particular illness their loved one is dealing with—stroke, Alzheimer’s, or dementia, for example,” says Jane Korpics, a medical and surgical case manager in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who counsels families in caregiving situations.
Check out such sites as care.com, which offers links to “endless numbers of support groups and tips for how to deal with caregiving,” suggests Gail Gibson Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Recommended reading: The Best Online Support Groups for Alzheimer’s Caregivers
7. Enlist Backup
“If you can afford it, it’s worth it to bring in a private home health aide, even just once per week,” Korpics says. “Burnout can affect your mental health, your well-being, and your relationship with your loved one.”
It’s really important for caregivers to have some time for themselves, Hunt says, whether it’s to get a haircut, go to a niece’s wedding, or fit in some exercise. Going for a walk or to your favorite SilverSneakers class will help you relieve stress—and ultimately be a better caregiver. You might even be eligible for a free gym membership! Click here to check your eligibility.
Need short-term care around-the-clock while you are on vacation or during your own hospitalization? “Skilled nursing and assisted-living facilities offer respite stays of one to two weeks for a reasonable fee,” Korpics says. Check out aplaceformom.com to find respite care.
8. Share Time Beyond Caregiving
“I try to spend time with my grandmother talking about whatever she wants,” Foreaker says. “She loves when my children come and entertain her, with their dancing and silliness.”
Caregiving is tough and stressful at times, but it’s also incredibly rewarding, Foreaker says. Although her nursing background has helped her prepare, she encourages that anyone can do it as long as their heart is in it.
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