Staying Calm in the “Caregiving” Storm

Guest Post by Ms. Cynthia Sotomayor, MBA. She has helped family caregivers and patients cope with caregiving & serious illness since 2006.  She is a member of the Mission and Advocacy Committee for the Long Island Chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Twitter: https://twitter.com/cmshealthchat

If you have ever flown in an airplane before, I bet you have heard the following messages “if the cabin pressure should change, panels above your seat will open revealing oxygen masks; reach up and pull a mask towards you. Place it over your nose and mouth, and secure with the elastic band, that can be adjusted to ensure a snug fit. If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask first, then assist the other person.

This inflight message serves as a reminder to family caregivers and those sandwiched in caregiving that they too need to take care of themselves first before they can adequately care for their loved ones.  Like most things in life, families jump right into the role of caring for loved ones without having specific plans, objectives or goals in mind.

However, with some planning and some organization, caregivers can achieve a healthy balance between caring for themselves and caring for a loved one there by “staying calm in the storm” of it all.

Keep a Calendar

One of the first things a caregiver should do is create a calendar – whether you prefer to use the old school pen and paper or by using an electronic one such as Google or Outlook.  Use a different color for every member of your family and put every appointment and event in your master calendar.  Most importantly, pick your favorite color and make an appointment for yourself every day to do something you enjoy.  Schedule a yoga class, a 20-minute walk, or dinner with friends and keep that appointment.  Doing things that you enjoy will give you the opportunity to take a break from caregiving duties which will help you to recharge your batteries.

Combine Appointments and Errands

Does your loved one have to see a cardiologist and a physical therapist?  If possible, schedule appointments on the same day, making things easier for both the caregiver and the patient.  Rather than sitting in a waiting room during time-consuming appointments such as chemotherapy infusions or physical therapy, consider doing easy errands such as dropping off prescriptions, picking-up dry cleaning or light grocery shopping.

File and keep all medical information in one central place

Any questions about treatment plans, medication side effects or change in status should also be included and brought to each doctor’s appointment.  Remember, on average, Americans only get 18 minutes with their primary care doctors at each visit.  Make the most of your time by having all of your questions and issues ready as soon as the doctor arrives in the exam room.

Organize the “Sickroom”

Keep the patient’s “sickroom” clean and clutter-free to avoid falls (and save a possible trip to the ER).  Organize furniture in such a way to lend support should the patient need something to lean on if needed.  Also, include a night-light (for middle-of-the-night bathroom trips) and a fully charged cell phone within easy reach.  Not all patients will be bed-ridden, but may still need some special attention.  For instance, chemotherapy may cause dizziness or nausea.  Consider putting a dorm-style refrigerator with cold beverages and simple snacks (such as yogurt or fruit) for easy and safe access.  Many caregivers are members of the “Sandwich Generation” club (simultaneously taking care of both their parents and their own young children).  To save time, buy in bulk at wholesale clubs such as Costco and when making dinner, make double and freeze the leftovers.  Consider online shopping if it is available from local grocers in your area.  Some grocers offer either online shopping where you choose your items, pay by credit card and your order is waiting for you when you go to the store or it can be delivered to your home for a small fee.  Visit a meal preparation service where you can pre-make several meals in less than two hours that can be easily frozen and then heated for dinner.

Ask for Help

Most importantly, do not be afraid to “ASK FOR HELP.”  Sometimes a caregiver may feel the pressure of being responsible for “all the needs” of the patient and will hesitate to ask for help.  Most family and friends do want to lend support, but often times are unsure of what to do.  If you are a caregiver who feels uncomfortable asking for help, keep a “to do” list so that tasks can be easily delegated when someone asks if there is anything they can do for you.  These can include time-consuming items such as folding laundry, picking up medications, grocery shopping, or yard work.  Create a Facebook page and post care-related jobs where friends and family can sign up. The time that will be freed up will allow you, as the caregiver, to take a little break from all the everyday demands.

While caregiving can be a very rewarding experience, in many cases it can also be stressful and take its toll both physically and mentally on the caregiver.  Getting organized at the outset can help alleviate some of this stress.  Nevertheless, even the best plans do not always work out, so remember to expect the unexpected.  Sometimes caregivers find themselves facing the reality of having to “go it alone.”  If you find yourself in this situation, consider contacting a guidance counselor at your local high school.  Many students today are required to complete a number of community service hours and could meet these requirements by helping out with some of the errands and household tasks.  Other options include getting formal respite care to provide short-term relief from caregiving duties or hiring a certified geriatric care manager, who is a specialist and can help families to care for older relatives.  It is always important to remember, “You don’t have to do it alone.”  Reach out for help.  Take care of yourself first so that you can be a better caregiver.

Sources:
Kornblum, Janet.  “Online medical records offer convenience, may limit privacy.” 
USA Today.  Goodman, Brenda.  “The 18-Minute Doctor’s Appointment Challenge.” 
Sanders, Gail.  “10 Tips for Organizing the Sickroom for the Caregiver” 
Rauch, Kate.  Managing Friends and Family When You’re the Primary Caregiver