Becoming a caregiver for an elderly relative can be a long and gradual process as that person slowly loses function and independence, or it can be a sudden change after an injury or medical event, such as a fall, stroke, heart attack, or illness.
However, if it is happening for you, chances are good that you have entered uncharted territory by taking on this new role in your loved one’s life.
To help you make this transition as smooth as possible, here are 4 tips for caregivers of elderly relatives to help you get a handle on the basics:
1. Take stock of how much care your loved one needs
Stepping back to take a look at the overall picture is essential to getting organized and making a solid care plan. Things to evaluate include your loved one’s medical needs, what daily tasks they need help with, how much supervision your loved one needs to be safe and comfortable and what needs to be done to ensure that the home environment is safe, clean, comfortable, and convenient for your elderly relative.
2. Consider how much of that care you are able to provide
Once you have evaluated the care needs of your elderly relative, you will need to figure out just how much of that care you can realistically provide. Examine your skillsets and your existing obligations, such as the demands of work and/or children, for instance, to determine what you can do for your loved one – and what you cannot.
3. Get help where it is needed
This is likely one of the most important tips for caregivers of elderly relatives. There is bound to be a difference between what your loved one needs in terms of care and what you can provide on your own without compromising your health and well-being.
While you may think that if you hustle hard enough, you can do it all yourself, one thing to think about is that caring for an elderly relative is very often a long-term situation. Burning the candle at both ends may work for a couple of weeks or months, but not for a year, two years or five years.
Reach out to family, friends, senior organizations, and care professionals for help – and do not feel guilty about it. Taking care of yourself increases the odds that you will be able to be your loved one’s caregiver for the long haul, rather than burning out or getting sick yourself.
4. Ease into the caregiver role
Trying to get everything about your elderly loved one’s life organized and under control in one fell swoop can backfire badly. Trying to make too many big changes all at once can be very stressful for you, and even more stressful for your loved one. Keep in mind that your elderly relative is used to doing things their own way and being in control of their own lives. Pushing too much change all at once may make them feel as if they are losing their independence entirely.
If the situation permits, making changes in a gradual way will likely lead to less trauma and more cooperation. Focus first on problems that directly affect safety, health and well-being, and leave the smaller issues for another day.
Additionally, as you work to make needed changes, be sure that you ask your loved for their perspective on how to handle things, rather than going it alone, and be willing to compromise when possible to ensure that your loved one knows that you respect their right to make decisions about their own lives.