By SMH Outpatient Care Coordinator Wanda Jackson
Being the caregiver for an ill, injured or aging loved one can be one of the most exhausting, rewarding, complicated and important roles you’ll ever tackle.
Whether you’re already a full-time caregiver, have just begun in the role or you know it’s on the horizon, here are some practical tips and resources that can make it easier to be or become a caregiver.
Plan & Organize
Make time to talk about the future, now. It can be uncomfortable to discuss finances and health with your loved one, but if you wait until after an accident or diagnosis, it may be more difficult to evaluate his/her wants and needs. Find a comfortable conversation-starter—like an article you’ve read or a friend who is working through the same decisions—and dive in!
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. This is an important conversation, so go slowly and be gentle. Don’t forget to discuss finances. You need to know the details of his/her health benefits and insurance coverage, as well as his/her bank accounts and finances. Respect your loved one’s wishes as you discuss their plans for the future and make sure the family knows that this is the loved one’s wishes, so in a time of crisis or when decisions must be made, everyone will know you are honoring your loved one’s wishes.
Benefits, Legal & Financial Decisions
When it comes to benefits, health/life insurance, legal issues and financial decisions, short-term and long-term plans need to be made. There’s no way to know exactly what the future holds, but forward thinking makes those decisions easier to handle when they arise.
Consider hiring an elder law attorney to help get assets and decisions in writing. Educate yourself on the available resources and services available to you and your loved one, including veterans’ benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, and free social and medical services.
What Type of Care Meets Your Needs
In our area, there are adult day-care centers, in-home health care; residential, assisted-living care; respite care; and hospice care. Know your options, so you can decide which one best fits your unique needs now and which could in the future. Also, as the caregiver, know that you might meet resistance to a plan—from other family members or the loved one you’re caring for—but you have to consider what you are able to handle, physically, emotionally, and financially.
Don’t Forget Your Needs
To help your loved one, you have to first take care of yourself. Take time for yourself. Remember your doctor checkups, make sure that you’re getting rest and that you also have support. Advocate for yourself and give yourself a break when needed.
Know Your Community Resources
Look into local options for caregiver support groups, home health care, remote safety monitoring devices, grocery delivery, adult day care and more. You can’t use them if you don’t know about them! Support groups are a great place to connect with others navigating a journey similar to yours, to glean tips or simply find an empathetic ear.
Certified Healthcare Access Manager Wanda Jackson, Sarasota Memorial’s outpatient care coordinator, helps patients and families connect the dots from inpatient care to outpatient services. She also facilitates SMH’s stroke wellness clubs, stroke support groups, Parkinson’s wellness clubs and support groups, and other programs.