Caregiving can be a demanding job. Getting others to help out lightens the load and better equips you to stay involved for the long haul. Among family, friends, and community services and professionals, here are some strategies to build a supportive network.
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Include your parents:
Unless your parents are severely incapacitated, they should be at the center of all discussions and actions surrounding their care. While this can complicate things sometimes, it is important for them to drive the decision making as much as possible. Talk with your parents about working together as partners in meeting their needs. Agree on ground rules, including establishing your own limits so your parents won't have unrealistic expectations.
Widen the circle:
Immediate family and close friends are obvious choices for help. However, distant relatives, acquaintances of your parents, neighbors and community organizations also can provide needed support. It's natural to feel reluctant to ask for help, but you never know who might be willing. With a large group, caregiving can be shared and several people can take on small tasks.
Make a list:
With your parents, decide what's needed and plan who can take on what responsibilities. This organized approach can reduce the stress that comes from uncertainty. It also ensures that your parents get all the assistance they need. Develop back-up plans, where possible. In fact, someone in your caregiving network might be willing to provide back-up duty. To make things flow easier, write down schedules and give all those involved a copy.
Don't accept excuses:
If someone turns down a request to provide help, suggest another task. Even if a sibling lives far away, he or she can help with jobs such as paying bills, researching local agencies or initiating regular phone visits. People with small kids at home can cook meals occasionally or bring the children along for visits.
Contact community sources:
Inquire with civic organizations, houses of worship and school volunteer groups about services they have for seniors. Some may provide free home repair, transportation, adult day care or companion programs. Ask the mail carrier, apartment manager or newspaper delivery person to keep an eye out for signs that anything is wrong at your parent's place, such as stacked-up mail.
Hold family meetings:
Every few months the situation may change, so reassess by gathering those directly involved in caregiving. Discussing health or housing concerns openly as they occur can avoid problems later. Choose a neutral party to moderate if necessary and have a clear agenda for each meeting.
Tend to your relationship:
Be specific about how your spouse can help (suggest tasks you need done), and thank him or her for all efforts. Encourage your spouse to talk about his or her feelings, recognizing that your additional responsibilities also affect your spouse. Although caregiving can make free time harder to come by, make an effort to spend time together as a couple.
Communicate with your children:
Be honest with your children about the situation, Listen to their concerns and answer their questions. Spend time doing something fun with them, no matter how tight time is. Ask them whether they would like to help out with your parents sometimes; even a toddler can help Grandma feel loved. Teenagers can help with yard work or may enjoy driving their grandparents to the store.
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Long-term care expert Elinor Ginzler talks about how to asses a caregiving situation.