At some point, adult children (or nieces, nephews or grandchildren) will face a time when an elderly loved one needs care above regular visits and phone calls. This intensive care requires time, as it can involve a lot of work with a person who may be moving more slowly than in the past.
This care can take the form of shopping trips, doctor’s visits, helping around the house and other activities which the care recipient can no longer engage in. It may require assistance with the activities of daily living, which assisted living facilities or professional at home caregivers provide.
Family members who provide this sort of care are special. It will have an influence on their own families, and possibly on their careers. Frequently, daughters, daughters-in-law and other family caregivers provide this care uncompensated.
The AARP estimates the economic value of this unpaid care was $470 billion in 2013 when family members provided 37 billion hours of care.
The best caregivers share six key traits for providing care for their aging family members.
Everything, from dressing to meals to moving around, takes longer than it used to, and certainly longer than you think it “should.” The caregiver must have the patience to let the care recipients get things done at their own speed.
Many of the elderly will acknowledge this slowness and apologize. The best caregivers will constantly reassure them that “it’s not a problem,” and will learn how to plan for this slowness as they juggle their own lives, as well as their obligations of care.
Impatience will contribute to your loved one’s loss of independence. Just as small children thrive best when they do something they’re learning, the elderly do best when they do everything they are able to do, even if it takes longer. Your patience respects their dignity, and, if you do things for them to “speed the process up”, you are doing less for them, rather than more. Patience, therefore, benefits you as well as the one you care for.
The ability to put yourself in the position of the person you care for is as important as patience. This ability focuses your attention on their needs, rather than your own. Treat them as you would like to be treated in the comparable situation.
Empathy and patience work together. It is a commonplace that the elderly tends to re-tell stories, and if memory issues are present, they may repeat questions and other statements.
Let the repetitions wash over you. They cannot harm you, and they allow your loved one to express their thoughts and ideas. If they have memory issues and ask a question they’ve already asked, they truly want to know the information. They do not remember they’ve asked it already.
When the caregiver remembers to respect the dignity of the aged relative, both patience and empathy will come.
Willingness to advocate
Your aging relative may be unable to express their thoughts as clearly or precisely as you’d like. You will learn to translate their wishes to other family members, health care providers and other professionals in their life.
You may have to work with family members to coordinate care, especially when financial questions arise. Ideally, many financial arrangements have already been made, but if they haven’t, you will need to ascertain your loved one’s wishes, and present them to the family.
Doctors and other health care providers may also not respond to your loved one’s needs. You will have to be their advocate to make sure they get the care they need.
Willingness to seek help
You cannot do everything, and you don’t know everything. You should be willing to seek help based on your observations of your loved one. After all, you are seeing more of them than most other people.
You may notice a withdrawal, which can be a sign of memory issues or depression. There’s no shame in finding someone to diagnose psychological issues. You may also notice changes in eating habits or facial expressions. You can then take steps to make sure the proper assistance is available.
On the personal level, you may need to bring other family members in to ensure that care takes place, or the home is maintained. The family, in general, should be involved; don’t let everything fall on your shoulders.
This trait benefits both the loved one and the caregiver. You may have to respond to urgent or emergency situations while you’re at work or at home with your family. You may have plans which need changing.
Despite your best efforts to fall into a routine with your aging loved one, that routine will be broken on occasion. Be flexible with that, and enjoy the ride.
Care for yourself
Providing care for an aging relative can take its toll on you. The strain can lead to health and economic problems for yourself, including sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and missing medical appointments.
Your risk of depression or substance abuse can increase, especially as you go through the emotional roller coaster of care.
You must, therefore, also advocate for yourself. Insist that other family members be part of the care. Set limits with your aging relative. If finances allow, hiring home care professionals for some of the time during the week will help lift the burden from your shoulders.
Every caregiver has a different set of skills, all of which can benefit the care recipient. All caregivers should share the six traits discussed here, and those who have all of them will make the best caregivers.