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.
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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 has also been a family caregiver. Write down any questions for the doctors and try to 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 Medication
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. You can also type the name of any prescription and the words "coupon or promo" into your internet search bar.
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. Lyft Healthcare CareRides provides nonemergency transportation for people traveling to and from medical appointments. Similarly, Uber is working with health organizations to develop more options for seniors GoGo is another option for seniors and people with disabilities, and there may be other local transportation options available to you and your loved ones too.
5. Make It a Family Affair
It's good for kids and older adults to spend time with each other, says Foreaker. She would often bring her children to her grandmother's home and let them help with vacuuming or organizing the refrigerator. It made the chores go by quickly and brightened everyone's mood. This special time can also help you avoid caregiver burnout.
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 need to tend to your own health needs? Many 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
Try to spend time with your loved one talking about something other than their health concerns, Foreaker says. Caregiving is tough and stressful at times, but it's also incredibly rewarding, Foreaker says. Although her nursing background helped her prepare to care for family members, she encourages that anyone can do it as long as their heart is in it.
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