New to Caregiving:It snuck up on me! Now what?

For many of us, caring for an aging parent(s) follows a natural progression over time. However, care needs can change and situations can shift. Sometimes those changes are sudden and profound, and other times slow and subtle. 

Either way, things can change from popping in to see how your loved one is doing and picking up an item here and there, to providing full-blown caregiving. If you’re an adult child of a senior parent, you might find yourself being more of a primary hands-on caregiver than you ever intended to be. 

Typically, adult children living close to their parents perform many tasks. While these may look different from family to family, some common ones include: 

  • Picking up groceries and preparing meals

  • Doing laundry and light housekeeping

  • Driving to medical appointments and errands

  • Handling finances and other paperwork

Over time, you might become more aware of changes in your parents’ needs and daily routines. These few and minor things usually start to snowball and before we know it, we are altering our own routines and schedules to accommodate. This can be exhausting and stressful. You may find yourself providing: 

  • Companionship and increased visiting to decrease isolation

  • Assistance with hygiene and getting dressed

  • Medication reminders or physically giving medication

  • Help with incontinence and personal upkeep

Preventing burnout

If you are new to caregiving, keep in mind that something that seems minor may escalate quicker than expected. For this reason, it’s important to stay on top of things – not only for the health and safety of your loved one, but also for your own routines, schedules, stress levels, and emotional health

Remember: if you burn yourself out, it will be difficult, even impossible, to be an effective caregiver.

It may be necessary to set up a new routine or arrangement to make sure your loved one remains healthy and safe. Here’s what you can do to make sure everyone – including you! – continues to thrive in a new arrangement.

  1. Take inventory of the current situation and what needs to be done to keep your loved one safe.
     

  2. Set expectations for yourself, your parents, and your siblings. If you have siblings, talk with them and share any tasks that you can. (Just because you live close to your parents doesn’t mean you need to take this all on yourself.) Do your siblings live out of town? Here are some tasks they could do.

  • Make additional calls and check-ins to your parents and to you

  • Order and ship supplies

  • Book medical appointments

  • Arrange home support from the community or a home care agency

If you do not have siblings, or if they are not active in your parent’s life, it is even more important to set boundaries for yourself and enlist the help of community agencies, as well as home care, when needed.

  1. Get organized! Make a schedule and routines to follow. You can set up monthly family meetings (whatever this looks like to you) with your parent(s) to stay up to date on changes and required adjustments.
     

  2. Get more organized! Keep all information together for your loved ones, including contact information for specialists and doctors, as well as legal paperwork (Power of Attorney, financial information, and wills). You just never know when things will change. Being organized will keep everyone accountable, prepared, and sane!
     

  3. Take care of yourself. This is more important than all the above points. Note that we didn’t list it as #1. Why? Because, in our experience, most caregivers would skip over it and say “Pffft! I don’t need to worry about me at the moment.” But you do! Make sure you are:

  • Getting enough rest

  • Eating properly

  • Making time for exercise

  • Scheduling some downtime to yourself

Final thoughts
Caregiving can be rewarding. After all, you are caring for someone you love, who cared for you when you were young. However, staying vigilant in your approach will keep you and your loved one safer and more content. 

For more information on what you should know about options for your loved one, head over to www.teaandtoat.ca/assisted-living-planner and download your free copy of our booklet for planning and record-keeping.

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Amy Friesen is the Founder and CEO of Tea & Toast, an Ottawa-based company providing assisted living help for seniors and their families. For more information, visit us at www.teaandtoast.ca