If you care for an elderly parent at home, you are one of the 40 million unpaid caregivers who look after older people in the U.S. If you live with the person you care for, you spend an average of three hours a day providing care, in addition to any paid work you do. Unpaid caregivers are an essential and often under-appreciated part of our society.
The COVID–19 pandemic put an even greater burden on at-home caregivers. The people they care for are in the most vulnerable groups, something we wrote about in Caring for a Vulnerable Patient at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Lockdown rules left caregivers more isolated than ever.
Even at the best of times, caregiving is a challenging vocation that asks much of those who practice it. But caregivers can and should take advantage of the resources available to help them to look after their loved one.
Planning and routine
Although it is impossible to constrain the inevitable urgencies of caregiving to a schedule set in stone, routine calibrates expectations, provides a measure of predictability, and gives a valuable rhythm to the days of both caregivers and those they care for.
Caregivers experience more stress than the average person, they are more likely to be depressed and sleep deprived. Planning helps caregivers to put boundaries on their time and to ensure that self-care isn’t neglected.
Talk to your parent about what is convenient for you and for them. The best plans are collaborative and cooperative, meeting the needs of both caregiver and care recipient. Consider the tasks that are involved in caring for your loved one. Write them in a task list, and schedule the tasks you carry out most often.
If your parent needs help to wash or exercise, block out a period each day and try to stick to that schedule. Do the same for mealtimes, for getting up and going to bed. Eventually, both of you will get into a rhythm as the schedule becomes an expected and anticipated part of the day.
Join a community of caregivers
Caregivers don’t have to be isolated even when they are locked down. Social media—particularly Facebook—and online forums are a vital link to communities of caregivers who have similar experiences. Organizations such as Family Caregiver Alliance exist to provide information and support to adults’ caregivers.
In addition to communities that form around caring in general, there are many communities focused on caring for people with conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. They offer emotional and practical support, and they often include a mix of unpaid and professional caregivers.
Find professional help
Overwhelmed caregivers are a risk to the health and happiness of themselves and their parents. If you feel as though you are struggling to cope, there is nothing wrong with paying a professional to lighten your load.
Professional caregivers can fulfill many different roles, depending on the unpaid caregiver and their parent’s needs. They can take over caregiving duties for a couple of hours a week to give you some respite. They can support you during the most stressful times of the day: morning and evening routines are often especially difficult to cope with. There are also live-in professional carers who can always be available when your parent needs them.
Take advantage of technology
Caring for someone at home can be physically and mentally exhausting. Many at-home caregivers are seniors too, and the physical requirements of looking after a very elderly parent puts a huge strain on their health and endurance. Fortunately, there is plenty of technology and medical equipment that can help you to carry out daily care tasks:
- Transfer boards and gait belts assist with moving your parent to and from their bed.
- Reachers and grabbers help your parent to pick up items and control their environment without calling on you for help.
- A home hospital bed for the elderly with head, foot, height, and tilt adjustments can significantly reduce the physical exertion needed to reposition patients. A powered home hospital bed with a remote control allows patients to reposition themselves.
Caregivers don’t have to cope alone and they shouldn’t be reluctant to reach out for help, whether that’s help from professional caregivers, from communities of people in the same situation, or from technology.