Caring for a senior--whether it’s a loved one or a client--can be an overwhelming task at times. It’s a stressful job, to say the least, and it can take a toll on your mood, your mental and emotional health, and your physical well-being. If you’re caring for a loved one, there’s added pressure due to your ties, and if you’re caring for a client, it’s important to make sure they’re well taken care of and that their family is satisfied with your work.
"There's a continuum of ways people become caregivers. Often a loved one suffers a stroke, accident or fall or a chronic condition worsens, and people are thrust into a situation. But few plan for it as well as they could," says director of operations for the Family Caregiver Alliance: National Center on Caregiving Leah Eskenazi.
Here are some simple things you can do to make sure you give the most compassionate care possible to the senior in your life.
Consider your options
When a family member needs assistance, it can be difficult to think about all the options available to both of you. Is it financially viable to keep them in their own home? Will they require 24-hour care? Moving a loved one into your home is a huge step and could have repercussions on your relationships with your family members and your own financial status. Lay out all the possibilities and give it some thought before committing to a decision
Lay down some guidelines
Whether you’re caring for a family member or a client, it’s important to have boundaries. Both of you will benefit from setting some rules, such as what you can and can’t do physically, what your schedule will be like, and what you expect from both the senior and their family members. This can help keep your relationship respectful and will ensure you don’t experience burnout.
Ask for help
If you’re caring for a loved one and most or all of the responsibility is falling on your shoulders, it’s time to ask for help. Keep in mind that you are just one person and it’s impossible to do it all alone without experiencing exhaustion and stress; don’t allow guilt to stand in the way of asking for assistance. Let your family members know that you need someone else to step up and help, and make an effort to support one another as much as possible.
Do some research
There are several groups around the country that will assist seniors who are ill or unable to leave their home; church groups, senior centers, and caregiver programs are all great resources to access when you need a break. Some of these will provide rides to doctor appointments, help with grocery shopping or bringing meals in, or even do light housework. When you need to take a breather, let one of these groups come and help you out.
If you’re going to be caring for a loved one in your own home, you’ll need to prepare the environment first. This can be very involved, so do some research or seek the guidance of professionals.
If you’re caring for a parent or other loved one, it may become necessary for you to become power of attorney at some point. Discuss the possibilities with your family and find out what your loved one wants when it comes to hospital stays; seek the counsel of a lawyer to draft a living will. This will be invaluable should the unexpected occur.