Have you ever heard of family caregivers saying, “I just have too much help and I don’t need any”? Well, if only!
Almost all caregivers agree that the role can be a demanding and challenging one, yet also rewarding to those who provide care. Are you the primary caregiver in your family who manages most of the duties listed below?
- Caring for your loved one at home who requires assistance to do their chores like meal preparation, cleaning and laundry
- Helping a family member with their personal care and hygiene
- Arranging medical appointments, hospital visits and liaising with doctors to understand what needs to be done
- Helping with transferring someone in and out of bed, physical therapy, as well as medical procedures like injections and feeding tubes
- Juggling life at work with caregiving responsibilities by handling emergencies or carving time to help a family member who is sick
- Is the designated “on-call” family member for any doubts or queries regarding the care recipient
These tasks are manageable if they come in once in a while. However, having to juggle these demands along with your own personal life on an ongoing basis can be overwhelming, at the very least. Most family caregivers experience an accumulation of stress related to their role. How well family caregivers can provide quality care for depends on their wellbeing and ability to stay well enough mentally, physically and emotionally.
This November, in conjunction with Family Caregivers Month, let’s honour and remember the people who lovingly give more than they take with tasks such as household chores, and selflessly care for their elderly loved ones. It is important to recognise that they too, are just human beings. The constant psychological and physical involvement in caring for another can sometimes be exhausting and at worst, lead to anxiety, depression or burnout.
In an ideal world, a family is a harmonious one and all members would get along easily. Luckily, many do! However, caring for an aging family member can sometimes take a toll on family relationships, especially among siblings. Ideally, caregiving is a time for siblings to provide mutual support to one another. But stressful situations can reignite past bitterness. Making decisions about living plans, finances and medical arrangements is undoubtedly stressful, but it doesn’t have to drive your family apart. In fact, caregiving should strengthen sibling bonds and tighten family relationships because there is a common purpose. Here are some tips for coming together as a family to take the best care of your loved ones:
1.Start with a family discussion
The first step in taking care of your parent is working together as a team. Arrange a time and place to meet as a family to discuss your parent’s needs. Make sure that everyone is present, so that each member gets a chance to offer help and opinions. This is best done when there is not an emergency. A detailed conversation about what kind of care is wanted and needed in the present and future, can help avoid a lot of confusion.
It is best if the care receiver is present in discussions so that there is transparency on all sides for both the person being cared for and the individuals who are caring for them. Openly and intentionally knowing the person’s likes and dislikes, what they want or do not want — creates a safe space for family members to process and mitigate the matter and come up with a plan that is not only a win-win scenario, but a compromise that can be reflected over time.
2. Equal division of responsibilities
In many cases, one adult child takes on the primary role of caring for an ill or ageing parent. This may be because he or she lives closest to the parent, is perceived as having fewer work obligations, or is considered the “favourite” child. Regardless of the reasons, this situation can lead to the caregiver feeling like there is a lack of help and on the other hand, the other family members might feel like they’re not needed or it is not necessary to take up the responsibility to care for their loved ones.
Thus, it is important to decide who will be responsible for which tasks. For example, many families find the best first step is to have a primary caregiver, even if one is not needed immediately as preparation is the key to managing crisis. Agree in advance how each of your efforts can complement one another so that you can be effective. While one sibling might be based locally and have the ability to take on most of the everyday caregiving responsibilities, a long-distance caregiver can also have an important role to manage the finances and sort paperwork. They can also provide company and care with regular phone calls, or offer respite care when they’re in town.
3. Take advantage of your caregiving strengths
When dividing responsibilities, it is crucial to do so by considering everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Consider what you are particularly good at and how those skills might help in the current situation. See how well you fit to some of the questions below to identify your strengths.
- Are you more resourceful and technologically savvy than your family members?
- Are you physically fit to take care of others?
- How comfortable are you at liaising with medical staff?
- Is your strongest suit doing the numbers—paying bills, keeping track of bank statements, and reviewing insurance policies and reimbursement reports?
With each of these in mind, it is easier to know how to chart your caregiving responsibilities on a day-to-day or to have a plan that ranges from short term to long term.
4. Prioritise the opinions of the primary caregiver
Once it’s decided who your senior loved one can live with, come up with a plan for how each person can help the primary caregiver to ease his or her duties. Remember that help does not have to be financial — if a family member does not have the financial capacity to help with costs, let them offer anything within their means.
As a primary caregiver, do think thoroughly about the types of assistance you require. Do you want your family members to give you time off once in a while? Or do you feel you have everything under control but youʼd like them to contribute money for services or respite? Don’t be afraid to ask. Here are some tips that you can follow:
- Do ask for help clearly and effectively. For example, you can start off by saying “Can you stay with Mom every Thursday? I have to get the shopping done for the week and it gives me some time to myself.”
- Be direct and specific. Many family caregivers tend to hint, complain or pour out their frustrations in magazines or newspaper articles about the hardships of caregiving hoping someone within their circle will read their plea for help. But these strategies are not the most effective ones. Shy away from giving mixed signals. If youʼd like your siblings to check in more often, do let them know your intention.
- Be realistic with your requests. Consider what your family members can afford to provide. For example, if your sibling can’t spend the entire weekend with your mother due to work commitments, don’t ask her to do so and instead, ask for something thatʼs easier for them, like managing the paperwork or bringing groceries.
- Avoid guilt-tripping. Guilt makes people uncomfortable and defensive. They might get angry and belittle what you are doing, or in worst cases — avoid you. Instead of guilt-tripping others, be appreciative and always remember to say thank you when someone is helpful!
5. Dealing with differences
A particularly troublesome situation arises when family members have different approaches to taking care of the needs of their elderly loved ones, especially regarding where and with whom the parent is going to reside. For example, one sibling believes that the parent is better placed in a care facility while the other strongly believes their parents should be taken care at home.
When situations like these arise, you can first try to convince the other party to see it in a different way. If these efforts fail, one could try to recruit the support of health care professionals involved in the parent’s case, such as doctors, and counselors, to find the decision that best fits their medical needs.
When caring is sharing
It is not an easy task to care for an elderly loved one as every family has a unique history and set of challenges to overcome. No one person is invincible and it is also important to recognise that no caregivers can do or control everything in life. But with a well thought-out caregiving plan, the entire family can come together to make their parents’ later years truly their golden years.