Being a full-time caregiver is many things. Exhausting. Frustrating. Heart-breaking. Did you know that most in-home caregiver agencies have specially-trained dementia caregivers? Were you aware that there are respite and day programs that can care for patients with dementia or serious medical conditions to give you a break? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As a Caregiver, taking care of yourself must come first before you can take care of others.
It’s not unusual for most caregivers to feel as if they should be able to handle everything themselves. According to a study done by AARP and The National Alliance for Caregiving, roughly “60% of caregivers are women” who are more likely to also be caring for their own families and tend to be less likely to ask for help. The truth is, often friends and family would be more than willing to help if they just knew how.
Luckily, there is a way to let others know what they can do to help. Often it’s a close family member or friend who will organize the calendar for the caregiver to help get the ball rolling, especially for caregivers who are reluctant to ask for help. Having a conversation with the caregiver is a great way to get an idea where they are struggling. Do they need help with housekeeping? Getting to doctor’s appointments? Picking up groceries or prescriptions? Yard work? Repairs? Meals?
A strong word of caution with regard to meals is to make sure any and all dietary restrictions, preferences, or allergies are clearly communicated if friends will be preparing meals for the family. Many families battling chronic or terminal illnesses eat organic, gluten-free, sodium or iodine-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, vegetarian, or vegan foods. For elderly or disabled care recipients, soft foods may be necessary as swallowing often becomes problematic. Be sure to clarify what they like and dislike and what they can and cannot eat.
It’s also important to use containers that don’t need to be returned and not to overwhelm the family with too much food, as can easily happen. Items that freeze well are helpful for when they don’t feel like eating or have more than they can eat at once. For the elderly or disabled, packaging any food items in smaller containers is helpful as it may be difficult for them to reach an upper freezer and they may not have the strength to lift something too heavy. If there are small children in the house, be sure to include food or snacks that they will enjoy as well.
Be sure to label all meals, wrap well, and include heating or cooking instructions for any casseroles or meals that require reheating. You can use masking tape or write instructions on the foil with a sharpie. This is especially helpful if they can’t eat it right away and need to put the meal in the freezer. Most foods reheat best if they are defrosted first in the fridge before heating in the oven or microwave.
Here are a few free online apps and caregiver communities to help. All of these provide an easily accessible online calendar where you can organize meals, tasks, errands, chores, yard work, repairs, appointments, and caregiving duties for friends and family who want to help.
It also gives the family a way to update all their friends and family in one place instead of having to field multiple calls and repeat themselves to everyone who checks in after every test, treatment, or procedure. Having one person be a point of contact for all updates is often helpful as well, depending on the circumstances. These sites also offer peer-to-peer support for patients and caregivers which can be tremendously helpful during a stressful time.
For many caregivers, the needs of the care recipient will increase over time. It’s easy for friends and families to go back to their normal lives and not realize that while an acute situation may have passed, chances are the caregiver still needs your help.
If you are comfortable providing care, you can offer to stay and visit with the patient to give the caregiver a break to go out for a meal, see a movie, go shopping, or just take a walk. Can you come every Wednesday afternoon or every Saturday night for a couple of hours? Even once a month offers a much-needed break from the ongoing stress of full-time caregiving.
Small gestures such as a thinking-of-you card or leaving a note with a fresh-baked batch of cookies or a bouquet of flowers will mean a lot. A favorite book or magazine, a word search or puzzle to pass the time and relax…..Small, meaningful trinkets remind caregivers and care recipients you’re thinking of them.
While it’s easy to think a dementia patient might not appreciate a gift, small thoughtful items can still bring joy. Flipping through old photos or listening to music from their past will often trigger happy memories and for those who may be further along in their decline, stuffed animals, baby dolls, and fidget blankets can be extremely comforting. And always be on the lookout for helpful products or services that you can share with caregivers.
See what services are in your area at www.Begincare.com. And if you know of something that can help others, please email it to us at [email protected] so we can share it with others. We are constantly adding new resources across the country so check back often to see what we’ve found for you. Help is out there.