A 5-Step Action Plan for Caregivers of Aging Parents or Loved Ones

Caring for a loved one can be tough. If you’ve been suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver after a health crisis, knowing who to turn to and how to get help can take some of the stress out of caregiving.

This simple action plan for caregivers can help you get your bearings and make your new caregiving role a little easier.

  1. Assess the situation and build a thorough understanding of your parent or loved one’s condition.
    How does it affect their ability to take care of themselves? How does it affect their behavior? If they have Alzheimer’s disease or another progressive condition, how will that look in the coming years? How will their needs change? A geriatric assessment is a great place to start and will provide feedback on biological, psychological and social needs of the individual along with prognosis. Knowing what you and your loved one is facing is key so you can know what to expect and how to address current and future needs.
  2. Understand where you can turn for help when you need it. What organizations and institutions are there to help? What government programs might be available? Places to turn include local Area Agencies on Aging, the Veterans Administration, religious institutions and disease associations like the Alzheimer’s Association. Your Area Agency on Aging is a good first stop to discover available resources near you. Visit eldercare.acl.gov to find the agency closest to you or call 800-677-1116.
  3. Build some knowledge about the legal system when it comes to caregiving. What are advance directives, a living will, power of attorney? Everyone should have these documents, regardless of age and ability. A knowledge of what these are, how to get them in place and who to designate is important. It is also important to make sure that ALL involved family members agree and understand the roles of the designee.
  4. Find some outside help so you can take an occasional break. Consider hiring a paid caregiver or using an adult day facilityif appropriate. Ask family and friends what they might be able to do. Are there family, friends or neighbors that can help with things such as cutting the lawn or helping to cook a meal a few times per week? Approach them with specific tasks that you would like help with instead of issuing a blanket call for help. Small pieces of assistance from friends, neighbors and other family members can often really add up to make a huge difference in the overall picture.
  5. Find ways to take care of yourself. Caregivers often try to do too much and find themselves having their own health problems. Caregiving can take both a physical and emotional toll, and you can’t take care of your loved one if your own health begins to deteriorate. Be sure to carve out the time you need to take care of yourself and make that time sacred. Stay healthy by making time for your own doctor appointments and eating well, exercising regularly, and making time for family and friends. The Area Agency on Aging 1-B in southeast Michigan offers a Powerful Tools for Caregivers class, which can help you learn how to manage stress and carve out that much-needed “me” time. Ask your local agency if they have something similar. Taking care of yourself will make you better able to care for your loved one. Finding a support group for caregivers where you can share thoughts, feeling and ideas with others on the same journey can be helpful as well.

This blog post is courtesy of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, a nonprofit responsible for serving more than 700,000 people 60 and older in Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties. By providing community-based services from meals to in-home care, the Area Agency on Aging 1-B enables older adults and adults with disabilities to maintain their health and independence in their homes. More information is available by calling the AAA 1-B Information and Assistance Telephone line at (800) 852-7795 or visiting www.aaa1b.org. We’ll be partnering with AAA 1-B on our Midlife Map series. Their experts will provide monthly tips geared toward the “sandwich generation” – people in midlife facing the complicated juggling act of caring for children and older parents at the same time.

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Photo credit: kate_sept2004

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