- Don't suffer in silence. If you feel you're taking on more than you can manage, let your siblings and other family members know. No one can read your mind and others may not realize that you're overwhelmed or even know how much you're doing. Tell them — calmly, without accusation or blame. Spell out what they can do: grocery shopping, driving to medical appointments, covering your carpool day, or even treating you to dinner and a movie.
See also: Hiring a home care worker.
- Do stay organized. Create a master contact list (names, phone numbers, emails) of nearby friends, neighbors, doctors, faith leaders, housing managers or apartment front-desk staff, and the local pharmacist, who can be reached in the event of an emergency. Give this to all family members and post a copy where everyone in the house can see it.
- Don't feel guilty if you don't live nearby. Regret weighs heavily on long-distant caregivers, who often shift their schedules, miss work, spend huge amounts of money and time on travel, plus hours talking to doctors and financial experts. This is not your fault. Hire a geriatric care manager you trust to help coordinate local care services; you can find someone through the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. Additionally, there are several services that can help alert you if your parent isn't active during the day. Your local post office may have a free Carrier Alert program, where letter carriers will notify you or a designated agency when mail hasn't been picked up. Many local agencies telephone isolated people daily to check on their well being. New technology can alert you if your parent hasn't been moving around the house.
- Do join a support group. Online or in your community. Every caregiver needs a talking buddy to listen while she vents. Even better are those who have been there, done that. Support groups can give you guidance, tips and solace. So can friends and co-workers who have been down this road. So if you need help, or someone to hug, ask.
- Don't forego sleep. No one — not even you — can function when sleep deprived. Sleep loss cripples your ability to concentrate, solve problems and remember. Try to get eight hours a night. Nap when the person you're caring for does. Ask someone to come over for a few hours or take Mom to a respite care program at a center for an afternoon. She may enjoy it. And you'll be much better.
- Do find time for yourself. Join a book club or other activity that brings you joy. Even if you've only read the prologue, keeping up with the activities and relationships that stimulate your mind and soul is essential. And remember to exercise. It not only keeps the body in shape, it keeps the brain sharp, too. If you can't get to the gym, buy a DVD of a yoga or exercise class. Ask a friend to pinch hit for you while you walk or jog for 30 minutes. Find ways to make it happen.
- Don't neglect your family. Yes, your aging parent needs you, but so does your spouse. Consider hiring a night caregiver a few times a month so you can go for dinner and a movie or better yet, an overnight vacation. Explain the situation to your children so they understand your schedule and try to find special time to be with them and your friends.
- Do learn your options. If your caregiving responsibilities become too much to handle with your job, consider adjusting your work schedule if possible. Employees covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for relatives. Check with HR about options for leave or flextime, job-sharing or telecommute policies that could make your life easier.
- Don't overlook the benefits. Though caregiving has myriad challenges, it also offers many rewards: Most caregivers agree that the experience strengthened their relationship with a parent. It often brings both caregiver and parent to a new level of understanding in their relationship even if it was a strained connection over the years. You know you're doing the right thing and you have the opportunity to give back to a parent who gave so much to you. Take a few moments each day to reflect on the positive aspects of being a caregiver.
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