Hope Young and Grandmother - Generations Magazine - October - November 2011As a young girl, I watched my grandmother age and I realized how much her daughters did to keep her safe and happy at home. Grandma had had three strokes, and was not always stable on her feet. She lived with my aunt, who cared for her on a daily basis. My mother would also help with transportation and companionship, but the bulk of the responsibilities were on my aunt’s shoulders.

This scenario is quite common. The primary caregiver is often an adult child who lives nearby or with the senior. The person may or may not have support from other family members; and any outside help, whether from family, friends, volunteer groups or paid caregivers, provides much needed support.

I’ve answered many calls from overwhelmed family caregivers and suggest the following guidelines to ease and balance responsibilities when providing care.

Steps for Initiating Care:

  1. Recognize when care is needed. Family members should be especially vigilant if the senior has bouts of forgetfulness, frequent falls, weight loss or gain or changes in behavior.
  2. Conduct a family meeting so that all adult children and capable family members are included in care decisions. Whenever possible, include the senior in family meetings. Have family members be realistic in the amount of care they can provide (i.e. doctor’s appointments, meal preparation, medication reminders, housekeeping and laundry). If a family member is unable to assist regularly, try to schedule a monthly duty for that member, such as picking up medications or grocery shopping for staples (rice, soap, canned goods, etc.). As a family, ensure that no one family member is completely responsible for the care of the senior.
  3. Discuss what happens if mom or dad need more care than family caregivers are trained or willing to provide. Consider hiring a caregiver or an agency. Professional caregivers ensure that there is no lapse in care.
  4. Recognize that your parents’ needs will change and family caregivers will need to adapt as well. Schedule family meetings on a quarterly basis to discuss any noticeable changes.
  5. Be sensitive to mom’s or dad’s wants and needs. They may not want anyone’s help, but they may need some help to remain independent. Including them in the planning process ensures that they have an opportunity to voice their opinions.
  6. Plan for the worst, but hope for the best. It’s always a good idea to start planning before the care is needed. It is often a fall or illness that initiates family caregiving, which usually has family members scrambling to ensure their loved one has adequate care when released from the hospital. If a plan has been discussed, and all family members are aware of their responsibilities, there is less pressure on the primary caregiver, and the transition home is much smoother.

Caring for a loved one can be a challenge, but it should not be a challenge that only one person must bear. If you are the primary caregiver with the most responsibilities, don’t hesitate to ask for help from family members. If they are unable to assist, other options can include using volunteer groups such as Project Dana, the Senior Companion Program, senior day care services or the state’s Adult Service and Programs.