Getting Started as a Caregiver
From the Building a Foundation page, you discovered the importance of a Care Agreement and obtaining authority with a Power of Attorney. Learning how to manage the overall process as you are getting started as a caregiver can also be very helpful. Tips on “how to get organized” and “taking on responsibilities” can help reduce that “overwhelmed” feeling.
Caregiving levels of responsibility change from person to person and time from time-based on what’s happening with your family member and within your family dynamics. Some start with only minimal oversight of a small section of someone’s life, while others have complete full-time responsibility.
Unless I state otherwise, when I speak of caregiving on this website, I am speaking to a full-time commitment because I believe even when not physically present, a caregiver is mentally present and therefore, still engaged in caregiving activities.
Areas of Responsibility
How Do You Start to Determine Your Areas of Responsibility as a Caregiver?
If you’re trying to determine the tasks that take up your time, consider writing down everything you do for a week on a legal pad just to get an idea of your activities.
Organize Your List
Organize the list you make in the way that makes the most senses to you, but for me, I think along the following lines:
- What are the tasks that I perform regularly?
- How often am I performing them?
- How long does it take me to perform them?
Analyze the Details of the List
Once I know these answers, I can analyze them a bit further.
- What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
- Is there anyone else who could do this for me?
- Could I afford to pay someone else to do this for me?
- Can this be combined with something else to make the two things easier together?
- Do I have to do the task as often as I was doing it, the way I was doing it, is there a better way?
Decide What Will Become Your Task List
After you go through all these questions, you have a good idea of what you need to do; therefore, you now have a task list, or “To Do” list. The next question is, how do you get those things done?
Start Your Caregiving Journey by Pacing Yourself
As you start your Caregiving Journey, it’s important to pace yourself right from the beginning. If you develop good habits now, chances are you’ll be able to prevent the development of Compassion Fatigue or Caregiver Burnout later. With that in mind, try using some of those points right from the start.
- Accept help: In the beginning, people often offer to assist you. Out of politeness, I turned them down. DON’T! Find out how they might be able to help you and cash in on what they offer. Helping someone makes them feel useful and happy. You’re doing them a favor to let them help you!
- Let go: You don’t have to do everything on your list in one day. Sort it out and prioritize. Determine what can wait and let it.
- Redistribute workload: Can someone else do something? Yes, it may take extra time at first to show them what to do, but it’s worth it if they can take it over. Also, be honest with yourself. Is it that you don’t want to burden them or that you are jealous and don’t want to give up the authority or power that the job carries by holding onto the assignment or object?
- Exercise: Short walks, dancing around the room to a song on the radio, anything for just ten minutes two-three times a day helps to work off the stress. Stretching helps a lot with flexibility too! Going into a quiet room and dropping to the floor to stretch out the back, hips, and leg joints are great relaxation time for me.
- Sharing feeling: Having someone with whom you can share your feeling is a positive way of releasing the pent-up emotions, so they don’t become trapped inside and fester into depression. Plus, if the two of you are going through similar concerns, you may be able to encourage each other and reinforce your commitment to overcome the challenges you are facing.
- Keep medical appointments: Monitor your health. All too often, caregivers cancel their meetings and wind up getting a severe medical problem due to overlooking a symptom. Pay attention, and don’t cancel the doctor’s appointment.
- Pamper yourself: Find something you enjoy doing as a diversion. I listen to audiobooks as I work. You might like television or radio. Find something, though, to brighten your day each day. A perfect choice would be something to make you laugh. Laughter is excellent healing medicine!
- Maintain personal relationships: As tricky as it may be, make time for your family and your “besties” whomever they may be. Keep in touch with them and make it a point not to let them get away from you. That human connection is vital to life.
- See a counselor or therapist: if you are feeling significantly depressed, see a therapist. Don’t play around with this. Many caregivers commit suicide. Please don’t be one of them.
Useful Time-Management Tips
One thing a family caregiver never has in abundance is time. Listed below are a few of the time-management tips I use to make life run a bit smoother around the Steigleder house. If you have tricks you use, please send them to me to share with others at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advance Food Preparation:
I cook in bulk to save time. I prepare multiple meals in advance and freeze them. Each morning I pull the meal from the freezer, set it in the refrigerator to thaw for the day, and it’s ready to reheat and serve.
I set aside 1-2 cooking days per month to do most of the cooking on those days and fill up my freezer. I slightly undercook the food so that when I reheat, it’s not overcooked.
I’m fortunate in that my spouse doesn’t mind eating the same meals frequently because I cook as many as 12-16 trays of the same main course at a time. I use plastic containers that are light-weight and re-usable. Preparation time is quick and easy.
Another suggestion: People are always asking what they can do for you: Here’s an idea. Ask them to cook bulk meals for you that you can freeze. At one time, I had someone who was preparing the meals for me and bringing over trays of food once a month. It was a life-saver!!
Preparing Medications for the Week
Each week I assemble all the pill bottles for the coming week and put together a tray of pills for the following week. I bought one of those plastic sectioned pillboxes that have the days of the week and four sections for the times of the day. I bought one that had six parts to it to give me more options because he has so many pills to take.
I sort out the pills into each section based on when they are due for the time of day. This process helps me know if he has taken his pills (I can get distracted and forgot to give them). I keep two of these filled–the one we’re currently using and the one for the upcoming week.
Maintaining Adequate Inventory
I always try to keep spare supplies in our extra bedroom that includes all sorts of dressings, tapes, catheters, tubes, etc. There is nothing worse than running out of something you need when you’re in the middle of doing a procedure. Therefore, when I pull the last item off the shelf to stock supplies in my bedroom where our immediate use supplies are maintained, I reorder the general supply cache that day.
“To Do” List
What should you expect to see on your To-Do List?
- Assisting with daily physical care-bathing, toileting, oral hygiene, feeding, hair care, nail care, grooming, dressing
- Transportation– going to doctor’s appointments, senior center, rehabilitation facility, grocery store, retail store, bank, running errands, etc.
- Wellness Officer and Prover of medical care and treatments- wound care, nebulizer treatments, changing dressings, medication administration, monitoring oxygen, tracking the location of wandering individuals, scheduling medical appointments, tracking symptoms, monitoring progress, etc.
- Financial management – paying bills, calling about bills, talking to insurance companies, accounting offices, researching errors, etc.
- Food manager – Plan menus, buy food, prepare food, serve it, feed it, clean up afterward, and store it.
- Fitness Trainer – determine what type of exercise they need and help them obtain it (daily) and try to gain some for yourself.
- Building and Equipment – Complete house, car, and equipment repair and maintenance responsibilities.
- Advocate and legal authority – respond to all inquiries from legal offices, business offices, insurance companies, and others regarding legal matters
Creating a Plan
Exhausted caregivers often experience burnout from trying to handle everything themselves. They don’t want to be a burden to anyone and feel that they must manage the care on their own. They are concerned that if they ask for help, others might see them as weak or unloving. Asking for help costs too much in physical and mental labor (more than the price in dollars and cents) to make it worthwhile. Instead, they suffer in silence, become ill, develop depression, and some even die as a result.
What I have described is called “Caregiver Burnout,” and it’s something I experienced. Click here for a description of how it affected me. (See Caregiver Burnout- a Personal Experience)