December 11, 2019
Are you new to taking care of a parent or loved one? Or thinking about it?
You’re not alone. Millions of people like you already do it.
The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute estimate that approximately 34 million Americans have provided unpaid care to a person age 50 or older in the last 12 months. 85% of those unpaid caregivers are caring for a family member.
It can be a joy to take care of your mom, dad, or other loved one. But it can also be confusing, frustrating, stressful, and exhausting.
Especially if you go into caregiving unprepared.
Communication, safety, exercise, and hygiene often present difficulties for caregivers, so we’re going to focus our tips on those areas since they’ll be most helpful for you.
Tips for Caring for Your Elderly Parents
While children rely on parents growing up, parents often rely on their children when growing old. Caring for elderly parents is a reality that most adults will face but will never truly be prepared for.
Oftentimes, with this responsibility comes great stress – financially, emotionally, and physically. The following are a few pointers on what to expect when assuming the role of caregiver for your parent and how to cope with this life change.
- Be prepared for change. The most important (and difficult) aspect of caring for elderly parents is understanding and accepting change. Your parent’s mood, attitude, mobility, personality, etc. may change drastically over time. It is important to understand that this is normal and will require a great amount of patience and understanding. Remember that your parent isn’t used to being taken care of, especially by his or her child. Increased anger or sudden changes in mood may be a common occurrence.
- Ask for help when you need it. Taking care of an elderly parent can be a full-time job. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from siblings, nearby relatives, or even consulting a caregiver to relieve you of some of your duties. Many home health care companies provide respite care for families that need temporary assistance taking care of elderly loved ones.
- Maintain your physical and mental health. Take breaks, delegate tasks to others – take time to rejuvenate. It is normal for individuals to feel guilty taking care of themselves, but understand that it is equally as important to maintain your health and well being to provide the highest quality of care to your parent.
- Foster solid relationships with caregivers and healthcare providers. Keeping in touch with healthcare providers and/or caregivers is a good way to keep up-to-date with any medications or special needs your parent might require.
- Communication is key. In addition to keeping in contact with healthcare providers, it is important to maintain contact with siblings and relatives to recognize and discuss any noticeable changes in your parent’s health or behavior.
Tips for Making a Daily Schedule
For family caregivers of elderly adults suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, creating and sticking to a daily schedule is very important. Caregivers who implement a schedule to make their days more organized may even find that their loved ones have a better mood and better health.
For these benefits and more, it is a great idea for family caregivers to not only design a daily routine but to follow it consistently.
Here are just a few tips for family caregivers who wish to design and follow a daily schedule.
- Make waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day. To benefit their mood and their overall health, it is best for elderly adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia to have consistent bedtimes and wake up times. This will help give structure to the day and make the rest of the day’s schedule easier to follow. It also will help encourage your elderly loved one to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
- Keep mealtimes consistent. Just as with going to sleep and waking up, having consistent mealtimes is important for elderly adults with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Well-timed meals can aid digestion throughout the day, prevent low blood sugar and its negative effects, and help elderly loved ones to be able to take medications on a regular schedule.
- Include enjoyable activities daily. Pay attention to your loved one’s interests. If they enjoy walking the dog, for example, make sure to schedule time to do this daily. Not every day needs to include the same exact activities, but every day should include at least one or two things that your loved one finds enjoyable such as doing a crossword, playing cards, or going to the park.
- Allow flexibility. While a daily schedule should be followed consistently, it shouldn’t be so rigid that it doesn’t allow for any flexibility. Unexpected things are bound to come up such as changes in the weather, appointment cancellations, etc., but these things should not derail your entire daily routine. To prepare for the unexpected, design a backup plan and then try to stay on track with your day as best as possible.
- Be willing to modify the schedule. The daily routine should be centered around the needs of your loved one, but it should not ignore your needs. If something in the routine isn’t working for one of you, be willing to change it to make it more suitable for both of you. You may also have to modify the routine as seasons and weather change, the health of your loved one changes, and/or they become bored and their interests change.
Tips for Communicating When Caring for the Elderly
Taking care of an aging loved one requires patience. This is especially true when it comes to communicating with them. Caregiver tips for communication include:
- Initiate communication by connecting with them physically or emotionally
- Establish and maintain eye contact. It’s a powerful form of nonverbal communication
- Use the person’s name when you speak to them
- Touch your loved one on the shoulder or hold their hand
- Be patient and compassionate
- Ask questions instead of ordering them around
- Try simple yes or no questions if making decisions is difficult for them
- Learn how to be an active listener
Tips for Maintaining a Safe Home When Caring for the Elderly
Every year, 1 in 3 adults over the age of 65 falls, and falls can lead to serious injury, so it’s extremely important to redesign your home to prevent falls. Caregiver tips for safety include:
- Remove small throw rugs and clutter that might cause trips
- Use double-sided adhesive tape to firmly attach any large area rugs
- Tack electrical cords to the baseboards so they’re out of the way
- Add brighter lighting around stairs, sunken areas, or furniture
- Install handrails and grab bars along stairways, next to the toilet, and in the bath or shower
- Install a raised toilet in the bathroom
- Line up furniture along the edges of rooms so it’s out of the way
- Get night lights for bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways
Tips for Exercise When Caring for the Elderly
Moving regularly helps to keep your loved one’s muscles in good condition, their joints lubricated, and their spirits high. Starting an exercise program when your loved one may not have always enjoyed one can be a tricky proposition, though. It can take creativity, but you can definitely help your loved one to be more active. Always make sure that you talk to your loved one’s doctor before starting any exercise program.
Exercise is good for the heart, muscles, and joints and also helps make a good night’s sleep more likely. A long run might not work for your loved one, so here are some exercise options that might be a better fit:
- Run errands together. Often caregivers opt to run errands without their loved ones. The trip may go faster and caregivers can get back home to their loved ones more quickly. But if you take your loved one with you to run errands, you can spend quality time together and you’re both moving and walking. The key to this is to make sure that you’re spacing your errands out appropriately and that you’re not trying to do more than your loved one can handle.
- Find an activity they enjoy. If you can find an activity that your loved one enjoys, such as water aerobics or riding a stationary bike, then it’s a lot easier to keep them excited about an exercise plan. Start out slowly and try a variety of different activities to find one that your loved one truly likes. Some people have never liked exercise, so it can be difficult to change their minds about being active. Keep trying, though.
- Try home equipment. For some loved ones, going to a gym or another location just isn’t something that they want to do. Try finding home equipment that is easy for your loved one to use. The home equipment gives your loved one the added advantage of knowing that they’re using the equipment properly and holding their body the right way.
- Ask your loved one’s senior care providers. Your loved one’s senior care providers are skilled at helping elderly loved ones in all stages of life get and stay active. Try talking to them about different types of exercise that your loved one can do that they might enjoy. Your loved one’s care providers can also help them to exercise, especially when you’re not able to be there with them.
Some other exercise options include:
- Take a daily walk together
- Let your loved one help sweep, dust, rake leaves, or vacuum
- Get some rubber exercise bands for them to use
- Stretch with your loved one
- Bring water with you and make sure your loved one hydrates
- Eat healthy snacks to keep energy levels up
- Explore chair yoga to improve strength and flexibility
Once your loved one starts to see the benefits of moving regularly, it’ll be easier to keep them moving.
Tips for Maintaining Hygiene When Caring for the Elderly
Sometimes taking care of a loved one means helping them with routine daily activities they can’t do anymore, like bathing, getting dressed, brushing hair, etc. Here are some tips for helping with these:
- Get your loved one comfortable loose-fitting clothes with an elastic waistband
- Lay out clothes in the order they’re put on
- Use a shower chair and handheld showerhead to improve bathing safety
- Wash hair in a sink with a hose
- Rinse with mouthwash after meals if brushing teeth is too difficult
5 Smart Lessons from Efficient Caregivers
When you first start caring for an elderly loved one, you have a lot to learn. Every caregiver goes through those learning pains, but if you could learn from the trials that others have gone through, your experience as a caregiver can be a lot simpler.
1. Care for Yourself
Rhonda, like so many other caregivers, learned that if she wasn’t taking good care of herself, then she couldn’t take care of her elderly loved one. “Now I make it a point to schedule in self-care. If I don’t,” she says, “then everything else doesn’t seem to fall into place as well.”
2. Ask for Help When You Need It
Another problem that many caregivers face is trying to tackle too much on their own. Neal discovered that he couldn’t in fact do it all, but it was still a hard lesson. “I needed the help of other family members but they had gotten used to not having to do anything for Mom. Finally, I found some great elder care help and it’s been easier to let go some.”
3. Get Training if You Need It
Sometimes what you need most is training. This might be CPR training or even specialized help with an illness your loved one is facing. Marsha had never worried about any sort of training or classes, but then her loved one started to choke and she wasn’t sure what to do. “I found a CPR class that afternoon that I could enroll in. I wasn’t going to feel that powerless again,” she says.
4. Keep Your Loved One in the Loop
Your loved one still has a say in what happens in his life, which is something that Susie started to forget. “He got really mad at me one day when my sister and I were talking around him, making decisions like he wasn’t even there. I started thinking about how I’d feel if someone did that to me and it didn’t feel good at all.”
5. Live Your Own Life
The biggest lesson that Rebecca learned before her mother passed away was that she couldn’t put her own life on hold. She still had a job and a life, and none of that was waiting around for her to figure out when she could face those responsibilities. “I had to remind myself that although I was caring for my mother, that wasn’t all that I was or all that I had to give.”
Each of these caregivers learned from their mistakes and became better caregivers overall.
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