Aging is a part of life. Many of us are taking care of parents and grandparents as well as preparing for our own future. If you are helping a spouse, relative or friend with basic activities-like shopping, cooking, paying bills, bathing, housekeeping, managing medications and even arranging for others to provide services-you are a caregiver.
Caring for someone else can be rewarding and exhausting. Many people are balancing their responsibilities as parents, employees and caregivers. Our goal is to help you understand the challenges facing the older adult in your life and how best to address these issues.
Talking with Your Loved One
It is never too early to talk to the older adults you love about their future. Listen to their thoughts and bring up tough, important issues like their health, medical care, housing, transportation, finances and happiness. Support them as they identify the areas in their life where they could use extra help.
These discussions can be complex. Sometimes, you may disagree about what’s in their best interest – financially, physically or emotionally. But don’t get discouraged. Compromise takes time. The more prepared and supported you are, the more productive your conversation will be. It may help to reach out to a professional counselor, who can guide the family through these hard issues and reach a solution everyone can support.
You may notice that your older friend or family member is behaving “out of character.” It’s extremely important to dig deeper and discover why they are acting differently. They may be having trouble with their daily routine because of their health, eyesight, hearing or even side effects from medications. Perhaps he or she is feeling depressed and embarrassed to admit it. Or you could be witnessing the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s critical to understand the root cause of their behavior; some problems can be easily fixed, while others may require a family discussion or medical help.
Express your concern to your loved one if you notice:
- Mail and bills piling up
- Food being forgotten and spoiled in the refrigerator
- Scorched pots and pans, which may mean they forgot them on the stove (both a sign of short-term memory loss and a dangerous fire hazard)
- Wearing the same clothing for days in a row
- Missing doctor’s appointments
- Not taking medication as prescribed
- Repeated phone calls to you or others
You should consult with your loved one’s physician about any of these behaviors. That way, if treatment is appropriate, it can begin as early as possible and have the best chance for success.
Is Driving Unsafe?
Sometimes caregivers have to address very sensitive, difficult subjects. Many decisions will affect both of you and it is important to maintain an open relationship with your family member or friend. Driving, for example, can be a difficult topic to discuss. There is no “right” age when someone should stop driving. Many older adults continue to drive well into their 70’s and 80’s. But if you notice erratic driving or if their doctor tells you that certain medications or their condition will impair their driving, it is time to talk about finding new ways to get around.
Seniors often equate driving with independence, and they may not be willing to admit they’re having trouble on the road. They might even be offended that you broached the subject. Tact is key. Emphasize that they will still be able to get where they need to go. Explore transportation alternatives and plan together how they will get around.
- Family members and friends
- Public transportation http://www.haywoodtransit.com
Remind them that driving is a public responsibility-if something goes wrong, they’re not only endangering themselves, but putting others at risk as well. As backup, have a note from their doctor recommending they retire from driving. But keep in mind that, to them, driving means freedom and independence.
More than half of all caregivers also work full or part time. Many are simultaneously caring for their own children. Being a caregiver means learning how to balance responsibilities to your family, your job, your older loved one and yourself. Below are some guidelines to make the balancing act easier.
- Take Care of Yourself.
Odds are you are a busy person. Being healthy, eating well, getting rest and making time for exercise are vital if you are going to accomplish all you have got on your plate. It is equally important to keep yourself emotionally balanced by making time for yourself, laughing with friends and enjoying your hobbies. Being able to care for others means being strong and healthy yourself.
- Ask for Help.
No one person can do everything without support. Every caregiver needs the informal support of family, friends, neighbors or faith communities. If you feel stressed or lonely in your caregiving role, share your thoughts with others or join a caregiver support group. If you find you need more formal support, you may want to consider respite care, having your loved one attend an adult day care program or hiring a professional geriatric care manager. If you would like to discuss these options with someone and you live in Haywood County, there are Elder Care Experts listed in the Senior Service Directory section of this web site under “Home and Community Care Services.” They can provide information about these services and caregiver support.
- Find Respite Respite Care is designed to give you a break. You can get help for a few hours or even a few weeks. Relief comes in many forms, from temporary in-home caregivers to short stays at assisted living communities. Respite grants are available through the Jackson County Family Resource Center which serves the seven western counties including Haywood. If you are overwhelmed with your caregiver duties or just need a break, please call Carrie Swanson at (828) 477-4053 to sign up for the program.
Maple Leaf Adult Day Care is located in next to the Senior Resource Center. The center opens Monday through Friday to help working caregivers. Transportation is available. There are a range of services offered at the center such as nursing care, meals, personal care, and recreational activities. The cost of adult day care is less than most in-home care, and there’s greater opportunity for therapeutic activity and connecting with others. Call (828) 456-9488 for additional information.
Other respite care options are available. For further information on respite care, you may call the Haywood Senior Resource Center at (828) 356-2800.
Caring for someone else and managing all your other responsibilities can take a toll on your health and well-being. Avoid burnout so you can be happier and care for your loved one longer. When you’re wrapped up in your routine, it can be difficult to notice your own fatigue. So take the time to see if you are:
- Feeling sad, moody or resentful
- Feeling exhausted or lethargic
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Overreacting to minor annoyances
- Losing interest in work
- Losing interest in your hobbies or things you normally enjoy doing
- Withdrawing from friends
- Eating differently
- Having difficulty sleeping or relaxing
If you think you are nearing burnout, take time for yourself, talk with people you trust or seek help from trained professionals or counselors.
Caregiver Support Group
Third Tuesdays at 1 p.m.
Canton Senior Center
Alzheimer’s Caregiver Support Group
Fourth Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m.
First United Methodist Church (Haywood Street in Waynesville)