"Top 10 Caregiver Tips for 2010"
Make a resolution to re-evaluate the balance between your own life and the care you are giving your loved one.

Gail M. Samaha

Happy New Year  

As we enter a new year (and a new decade), it is always smart to re-evaluate your life, business and systems in place. As an elder care professional, daily I see caregivers and families struggle to find the balance needed in their lives to continue to provide their aging parent(s) or loved one with the best possible care. This year, whether a caregiver, elder or a trusted elder care advisor, remember to look at steps necessary to provide yourself or your clients with peace of mind and a well-balanced lifestyle.

Top 10 Caregiver Tips for 2010
While there is some small comfort in knowing that the pressures you feel are shared by many others, the bottom line to this very personal matter is simple - finding the time and services that can help make your life and the lives of your aging parents a little easier. This year, as you care for your elder (either living with you or still in their own home), find the balance you need each day to continue to provide great care for your loved one and yourself.
1. Take good care of yourself
Before anyone else, you need to take care of yourself first. Eat well; get some exercise; get enough sleep; and be sure you're also getting your annual physicals. It's not an indulgence - it's a necessity!

2. Plan for winter safety
This is a time when caregivers' concerns accelerate as their loved ones are negotiating the challenges of another winter. A checklist would include:                                                                        
a. Fall prevention - inside and out.  Remove scatter rugs and secure handrails all entrances of the house. Be sure they have the proper snow shoes/boots when walking outside
b. Arrange for snow removal of driveway, walkway and don't forget the mailbox that's located away from the house. 
c. Adequate heating - automatic delivery of heating oil (elders have priority for reinstatement of electricity if power goes out). 
d. If still driving, the car is set with an overall winter protection (e.g. oil change, tires, battery, blankets, water, AAA membership). Also need to determine if they should still be driving.

3. Ensure emotional well-being
The first of the year is when the blues are very prevalent with the let down of the holiday as the family returns home, sunshine is at a premium and getting out every day can be a challenge. You can help by:
a. Making sure they're getting some exercise (walking in a mall, neighborhood, exercises at a local senior center)
b. Checking B-12 (if low, could impact memory), Vitamin D, and Thyroid levels
c. Scheduling a weekly event they can look forward to (a movie, dinner out, or a visit by you or a friend)

4. Schedule fun time for yourself on a regular basis
You also need something to look forward to - whether it's time with a good friend or spouse, a weekend away, a family game night or just being alone. 
5. Plan ahead for doctors' appointments
If you're unable to assist your loved one, make arrangements with a sibling, friend, aide or neighbor. Afterwards, have them communicate to you the doctors' feedback and next steps.

6. Ask for help when you need it 
Know that you don't have to do it all. -- whether it's taking your loved one to a doctor's appointment, concerned about what to do next or just feeling overwhelmed. Know there are many resources to support your caregiving needs through websites, books and groups.

7. Seek family support
Maintaining open communications with immediate family members and siblings gives you a chance to ask for help with various tasks. Plan a weekly check-in via e-mail or phone to give updates and get the help you need, reducing your caregiving workload and alleviating some stress.

8. Reassess your loved one's situation
This is a good time to take an inventory of their overall health, financial picture, and living needs. Now is the time to begin compiling a to-do list to be implemented over a period of time. Medical information should include your loved one's health conditions, prescriptions and their doctor's names and contact numbers. A financial list should contain property ownership and debts, income and expenses, and bank account and credit card information. You should also have access to all of your parent(s) vital documents that could include their will, power of attorney, birth certificate, social security number, insurance policies, deed to their home, and driver's license.

9. Hire an elder care professional
First and foremost always remember why you are assisting your parent(s) and know that you are doing the best that you know how by providing your love, patience and support. Don't be afraid to ask for help, as it may be time to contact an elder care consultant who will make caregiving easier for you. An elder care consultant will provide tools and resources to develop a personal plan that outlines manageable next steps to ensure the best possible care. Be certain to look for an elder care consultant who partners with an extensive group of trusted advisors (geriatric care managers, home care specialists, living facility directors, visiting nurses, living financial planners and elder law attorneys) to provide you with comprehensive planning solutions and services well beyond your loved one's medical needs as well as peace of mind.

10. Let go of the guilt
There's no room or energy for any guilt. You're no longer a child but instead, an adult trying to care for an aging parent while trying to live your own life. Remember, your parent was able to live their life and it's okay to want to do the same. Know that you're doing the best you can in caring for them.

GMS Associates - Elder Care Planning Division