Carol Ann Pitts and Mom
I have been the primary caregiver to my elderly mother for the past seven years. Before that, I also cared for my father before he passed away. I've learned a great deal over the years, but as a new caregiver, one of the most stressful things is to feel that you do not have all the information you need to help care for a loved one. At the start, you should research what you can about your role, talk to your health care provider and family, and look online for resources and support. Hearing from others who have already been through the experience can be very helpful, and hopefully, my advice can help others taking on this important role.
I am fortunate to be able to provide in-home care for my mother, and she is most comfortable and content living in our home. But, preparing to take on this new responsibility is not without challenges. When transitioning a loved one into your home, it is a big change and you need to prepare in advance the best you can. You have to plan before the crisis, set up networks for support, and ask questions ahead of time.
There are also some practical things you need to think about to make the home both a safe and comfortable environment. First, ask your loved one how you can set up the home to meet their needs best. Next, you will likely have to make some physical changes to the home like removing carpets and rugs to prevent falls or adapting a bath or shower. You might also need to plan for more significant modifications like building a ramp or widening a doorway for a wheel chair. But, don't forget to take time to make the home a warm and familiar environment too-with plants, animals, photos and holiday decorations.
As a caregiver, you need to be flexible. Your situation is not static and it will change day to day as the health of the person you are caring for changes. One thing I do is keep a journal so that I can stay on top of everything. My journal includes medical history information, trends in sleeping and eating patterns to discuss with the health care provider, information on recent lab work, up-to-date lists of all medications, and phone numbers for important medical contacts.
Being a caregiver is an extremely difficult and consuming role, but you need to make sure you take care of yourself too. Everyone needs a bit of time for themselves to take classes, pursue a hobby, or get away - whatever will help keep you going and make your own life more satisfying and full. I also think it's important to try to stay connected socially with others and share experiences with other caregivers, often over the Internet.
The Internet is very helpful, especially if you don't have much time-and caregivers most often do not. Since I became a caregiver, I have seen significant improvements in the support and resources available to caregivers online, including the Ask Medicare Web site and e-newsletter.
Caregivers need to remember that they are only human. You will make mistakes and can't do it all yourself. But you are making a difference in the life of another -and that helps make it all worthwhile.