Color & Control:

Live and learn … 

Finding others who’re willing to share 

Whether it’s a new job, a new vehicle, or a new recipe, one of the  best ways to learn about something new is by asking someone who has tried it. The same is true for caregiving.

Those who’ve ‘been there and done that’ are often happy to share insights, make recommendations, suggest coping skills and offer tried and true solutions to help you manage. As a former caregiver for my parents, who entered the role without any background knowledge or previous involvement, I’m always happy to help “newbies”.

Caring for my mother who lived with Parkinson’s and Leukemia and my father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease proved to be immensely challenging. It also taught me a number of valuable lessons and provided me with a many worthwhile experiences – one of which was participating in a research study. The study teamed me with a veteran caregiver who was in a similar situation. Through our regular chats I was both supported and given helpful tips, tools and validation. (re: disease prognosis, local resources, coping mechanisms, etc.). Here are just a few personal recommendations to make your life easier: 

Prepare: While caregivers may not know exactly what lies ahead, they can recognize that a loved one will naturally age, their health will decline, and they will need some additional support. Trying to tackle the big picture can become overwhelming. Instead, start small. Familial caregiving responsibilities could be discussed amongst siblings. Homecare could be researched. Tours of long-term care homes could be scheduled. Unneeded magazine / newspaper subscriptions could be cancelled. Home downsizing could begin. Parental bills could be paid through automatic bank withdrawals. The parental car could be sold and alternative transportation could be explored. 

Seek out the “right” help: Your family doctor, the local pharmacist, bankers/financial planners, professional homecare services, a lawyer, a realtor, seniors’ transportation providers, house cleaners, senior centres, magazine articles, and many others all can lend a hand to family caregivers. Even the Internet can provide information—just please be careful to check the credentials of any online writer. Don’t be shy to ask for help from others and think outside the box when it comes to those who could help you. I remember hearing about a barber who once raised the alarm with the family of a regular older customer who hadn’t come in for his regular trim and shave for a few days. 

Recognize personal strengths, weaknesses, and limitations: If there are a few of you, try to choose caregiving tasks that you’ll be able to focus on and complete. The most sensible approach is for family members to draw from their own experience and personal skills sets and supplement with external support to cover weaknesses if possible. Those with a banking/financial background could take to pay parental bills and manage investments, while others may be more interested in handling grocery shopping, housework or driving. 

Realize that someone delegated to do an unwanted job may become a resistant caregiver. Also give some thought to a caregiver’s location and life circumstances … it is more difficult to provide care from a greater distance, if you have young children or a demanding job. This doesn’t mean that the family member living closest to the senior should immediately be delegated to become the primary caregiver but sometimes that just makes sense. 

Think of yourself: But when focusing on helping and supporting a loved one, it’s easy to put yourself last. Respite breaks can provide caregivers a chance to do something just for themselves and can take many forms such as listening to music, reviving a hobby, registering for a class, gardening, or hiring an outside professional to watch Mom/Dad for the day. My sisters and I found Dad a hospital day program which he attended a couple of days a week. Having him away and under the watchful eyes of trained program staffers allowed my mother some time to herself. Often, she would use this time to simply sleep – something she sorely needed! 

Embrace the joys of caregiving: Granted, much of caregiving is described as stressful, challenging, and even heart-wrenching, but there are bright moments to be had. After caring for my parents, I became more aware of what I could achieve, strengthened my own self-confidence, learned more about my mother and father, built better relationships with my two sisters, became a better organizer, and improved as a writer. Other bright moments can be found as well. As just one example, I remember often taking Dad a frosted mochaccino when I visited him. It was a treat for me to share special time with him and watch him gulp down the drink and smile broadly afterwards. 

Take pride in what you do: Caregiving can be taxing physically, mentally, and emotionally. Family caregivers may feel obligated to help and have feelings of guilt that they are not doing enough or can’t fix things. 

Initially, I felt weighed down as I struggled to deal with my parents needs as they began to decline and I was concerned by all the related caregiving responsibilities I had taken on. Over time, my mindset changed and my routine and skill set improved. Gradually, I became more proud and more fulfilled in my role. 

Let’s face facts … not all of us are cut out to be caregivers, but those who can, and do, are taking on vital work. Keeping a loved one safe and comfortable while providing them with the best quality of life possible is now simple task. Well done. Pat yourself on the back—you deserve it!  

Rick Lauber is a freelance writer. He has written two books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide.

Related Articles

Recent Articles

Complimentary Issue

If you would like to receive a free digital copy of this magazine enter your email.