How to Navigate Your Caregiving Journey

Each year, more than 65 million people provide care for the chronically ill. This may include a parent, spouse or even a close friend. It’s a major responsibility that can be difficult, but also fulfilling. In honor of November being National Family Caregivers Month, here are some tips on how to navigate such an important role:

  1. Plan Ahead: As a caregiver, it’s crucial to establish expectations, guidelines and goals early on. Be prepared to have conversations about health, finances, housing and potentially, death.
  2. Respect Their Wishes: Caregivers should always consider their friend or loved one’s point of view. It’s imperative to act within the best interest of that individual. Every decision, if possible, should reflect their wants and needs.
  3. Discuss Legal Obligations: If a patient is unable to make life-altering decisions, a caregiver may be required to act as power of attorney. This means overseeing legal and financial matters including advance directives, living wills and property management. Immediate family members should provide input and be fully aware of the process. In some cases, it may be necessary to speak with a professional for tips on how to approach more complicated topics.
  4. Arrange Health Care: Older patients and their spouses, as well as adult children, must have an open dialogue about health care needs. Together, they should address current coverage as well as cost and quality of treatment. For additional guidance, consider contacting a licensed Medicare agent who can provide detailed information on health care plans. There are online tools that can assist in creating a personalized package. Find a complete list of terms and eligibility rules, here.
  5. Implement Gradual Change: When shifting responsibilities, timing is key. Slowly implement changes that allow all parties room to adjust. Start by discussing specific preferences such as future living arrangements. These small steps will help prepare them for the dramatic transition ahead.
  6. Create a Secure Environment: A natural side effect of aging is muscle loss. This causes weakness in the body, making individuals more likely to fall. Muscle also generates heat, so its absence can increase the risk of hypothermia. Aging is also linked to sensory loss such as impaired vision and hearing. To prevent injury, minimize clutter and invest in additional lighting, grab bars, hearing aids and glasses.
  7. Seek Outside Assistance: Caregiving is a full-time job that can be mentally, emotionally and physically taxing. The Family Caregiver Alliance states that supporting a sick, ailing or elderly loved one can cause serious health problems including chronic stress. That’s why it’s critical for caregivers to take breaks, seeking outside assistance when necessary. Look to friends, family or a professional to help with daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and grooming.

About the Author: Dr. Raymond Hobbs is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

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Photo credit: agilemktg1

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