As a family caregiver, you play a vitally important role in the life of your aging loved one—a role that can also be overwhelming, exhausting and sometimes thankless. As our gift to you this season, and as an encouragement for all of the good work you are doing, we asked professional Home Instead® CAREGiversSM to share their best advice with you. Here are eight of our favorites.
1. Take a break without feeling guilty. Maggie, a Home Instead CAREGiver, says, “The one thing I would advise a family caregiver is to allow themselves respite time, at least a couple times each month, without feeling guilty. A refreshed caregiver is a much better provider of care when they themselves have taken a much needed break.”
2. Helping your loved one look good can help them feel good, too. CAREGiver Theresa says, “Washing their hair, getting a trim or a haircut can vastly improve how they feel and see themselves. Update their clothes as their size changes or they lose a lot of weight. Purchasing two or three brightly colored, patterned ‘senior bibs’ or ‘painting smocks’ that can be put on and washed every day can also extend the life of their clothes.”
3. Give them the freedom to forget. CAREGiver Lori says, “Do not assume your family member remembers even the simple parts of life they’ve always known. Do not assume they like what they’ve always liked: music, television, current events, travel, past favorite foods, visiting in large groups of people. Do not assume they remember the person in church greeting them, or the neighbor next door, or even you. Allow them the space to remember and forget at their own pace.”
4. Call or visit regularly. CAREGiver Renee says, “In my years as a caregiver, I have found that most seniors who do not get out much usually experience loneliness. Their phone seldom rings and the television is often left on all day for company. They want to hear the sound of other voices but that doesn’t take the place of visiting with other people or spending time out in public.” Renee suggests setting a specific day and time each week to call, to give your loved one something to look forward to. A simple letter or greeting card to let them know they are missed and loved can make their day and remind them that someone cares.
5. Allow them to change and accept when they do. “Whether it’s a physical incapability or behavioral, realize that it is okay that your loved one is not the person you remember. Step back and realize the only way they can get peace is to let them be.” – Jeannie, Great Lakes Region 2012 CAREGiver of the Year
6. Never make them feel incapable, or say “no” outright. Jeannie also advises, “Be considerate about things that may be embarrassing to them (e.g., helping them out of a wheelchair). Be as creative as you can be. If they’re confused about what is going on, ease the confusion by asking questions about their past and suggesting activities like going for a drive and pointing out all their favorite locations. Do what you can to make it feel like they weren’t denied anything.”
7. Be patient and respectful. Mariana, Central Region 2012 CAREGiver of the Year, says: “Regardless of the reasons they need care, it is important to provide loved ones care in ways that are respectful of their dignity and independence. You need to be patient.”
8. Accept help. “You need to take care of yourself to take care of someone else. If people offer to help, accept the help.” – Mariana