A Few Tips
As I look back over the past five months, the beginning phases of The Big Move, the following thoughts summarize my lessons as a caregiver:
- Assess the needs and the wants. Of course, as caregivers, we have to focus on our loved ones' basic needs. But if we only focus on that and ignore the things that are priorities from their perspectives, their quality of life will suffer—and isn't enhancing their lives the whole point? Having a dog companion, or good food, or a garden may be just as important as help with bathing or medications.
- Involve the entire family. As much as possible, encourage your older family members' participation in the process every step of the way. Some people think they are helping by just taking over, but in actuality, they are not respecting their family members. Nor does such an approach help them make the transition. Involving them as much as is prudent and possible without overwhelming them gives your loved ones some semblance of control as everything is changing around them. Perhaps it's too much for your older family member to make decisions about all the furniture to take in a move, but maybe he or she can make a choice between two pieces of furniture after you narrow it down. Would you want someone taking over your life without asking your opinion?
- Plan, but expect deviations. As a family, we planned as much as possible, but the unpredictable development of the apartment not being finished threw us a bit. When moving older family members, go that extra mile, make that phone call, have a plan B. It may be harder for them than for you to adjust and be flexible.
- Familiarity eases transitions. Try to pick up the old routines quickly after a move. Consistency in morning and evening rituals, mealtimes, favorite TV shows, or familiar furniture help us inch through tough transitions. Pay attention to the details. They matter, and sometimes finishing one small detail, such as hanging a photo of a loved one or organizing a shelf to put the most-used items within reach, can make all the difference in easing the transition.
- Expect it to take at least three times longerthan you thought it would. Maybe for you, transitions and changes happen more quickly, but for your older loved one, they take longer. Don't lose heart; it just takes more time for them to process change. Expect it, and plan for it.
- You can't put life on hold. If we had been able to focus only on the move and transition during these past five months, it probably would have gone more smoothly and quickly. But life doesn't work that way. We've had to deal with health issues, work demands, property in three states, financial matters, and other family issues all along the way. It's important as a caregiver to constantly prioritize. Recognize that at times the basics, such as opening the mail, have to be done.
- Caregivers have to care for themselves, too. Despite my 25 years of working with caregivers, and even after my own caregiving experiences over the years, I've committed some classic "caregiver no-no's": I went days without medicine, didn't eat healthily, and stopped exercising (except for moving boxes!). I've even realized I'd actually been wearing the same clothes for two or three days! You're worth it, and you won't be any good to your loved ones if you fall apart!
I'll continue journaling about this caregiving experience here on AARP.org, so stay tuned. I know this journey for my family has just begun!