Caring for an aging family member can be both rewarding and challenging. Often, family caregivers come into the role unexpectedly after an older loved one has a health crisis, such as a fall or illness. In other situations, it can come about gradually over time. Regardless of how you happen to become a family caregiver, it can be challenging to manage their needs on top of your own responsibilities as a parent, employee, or friend.
InnovAge understands the difficulties family caregivers face in balancing their own needs with the needs of their loved one. If you’re in the position of managing care for an older loved one, it can be hard to know exactly where to start. Read on for useful tips and information that can help in your caregiving journey, including:
What is a family caregiver?
A family caregiver fills many roles for their older loved one. Sometimes, it happens because that caregiver lives the closest, is the oldest, or is seen as the “most responsible” in the family. It can also be a legal arrangement if your family member needs someone to make medical decisions on their behalf. Depending on the arrangement, some of the tasks you may be responsible for include:
Making a caregiving plan
- Providing transportation to medical and other appointments
- Managing and coordinating medications and doctor’s appointments
- Ensuring a safe living space
- Daily personal care such as bathing, dressing, eating, and toileting
- Providing companionship and opportunities to socialize
- Managing finances, including healthcare costs, insurance claims, and paying bills
- Sharing updates and information with other family members and loved ones
Whether you became a family caregiver of an older loved one suddenly or it happened over time, planning ahead can be your best friend. “Many people don’t want to think about or talk to younger family members or friends about their preferences for care as they age, what their living arrangements will be, or their finances,” says InnovAge Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ann Wells
. “Having these conversations before a crisis hits makes the process so much easier for both the caregiver and the person they may be caring for.”
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you plan for caregiving:
- Listen to your loved one. If they’re able to, have a conversation with the person you’re caring for. Ask them what you can do now that would be most helpful to them. Also ask what is important to them. This could be a weekly walk with friends, getting their hair done at the salon, or their wishes related to advance directives. Be sure you understand their values, culture, and religious beliefs and how this may impact future healthcare decisions so you can support their wishes.
- Gather or have access to medical, financial, and legal documents. From prescriptions (including doses and times) to physician names and phone numbers, having access to all relevant medical information – before a crisis – is important. You may also need to know financial information and have access to legal documents. From a financial perspective, consider discussing what accounts they have (including banking, checking, retirement, and investment), as well as credit cards, loans (such as mortgage or auto).
Legal documents that can be helpful are Social Security numbers, income tax returns, and any advance directives
such as wills, living wills, and burial arrangements.
Finding support for family caregivers
- Pay attention to changes. Your loved one’s physical and mental health may change as they age. This means their care needs will also evolve over time. At some point, they may become eligible for Medicare and/or Medicaid and other programs available in your state or community. If they become disabled or increasingly frail, their home environment may no longer be safe. Modifications can be expensive and not all homes can be safely adapted.
- Ask for help. Sometimes it’s hard to admit when we need help. This is true for both caregivers and older adults. Caregivers may not be willing to admit when they’re stressed or working outside their comfort zone because they don’t want to add work to anyone else’s plate. Asking for help from friends, other family members, neighbors, and professionals can help caregivers maintain their relationship with their loved one and keep as much balance as possible in their own lives.
Anyone who has been a caregiver to a friend or family member knows the impacts to their own life are not just physical and emotional but can also be financial.
Here are some tips to find support as a family caregiver:
- Talk to family and friends. These relationships often provide the most support, both emotionally and with practical day-to-day needs.
- Explore other care options. Finding skilled and non-skilled professionals to help in their home or a center or location that provides older adults support and healthcare services can relieve pressure and give you peace of mind knowing that loved ones are being cared for correctly and consistently.
- Remember to listen to your loved one. If you are looking for other care options, remember to talk with your loved one. If they can participate in decision-making, be sure you are seeking their input as you move forward.
- Find a community. As a caregiver, look for resources like support groups or online communities that offer personal advice and shared experiences to remind you that you’re not alone.
Caregiving doesn’t need to be a one-person undertaking. Even if you’re the primary caregiver, it’s normal and important to have other people around you to support you.
Managing your own health as a family caregiver
As a caregiver, it is a privilege to spend time with your loved one, but it is also important to manage stress and take time for yourself
. Caregiving responsibilities can bring significant physical, emotional, and financial strain. Adding to the stress, many caregivers have other commitments, such as full-time jobs and childcare.
Here are some tips to maintain your own mental and physical health while caregiving for a loved one:
Consider a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly
- Prioritize self-care. In 2020, family caregivers were in worse health than they were five years earlier. This is a result of them putting their own needs behind those they care for. Be sure to schedule your annual preventive health screenings and other important doctor’s visits, eat a well-balanced diet, and exercise.
- Stay connected. Keep in regular contact with friends and family. Meeting in person (if it’s safe to do so), phone calls, instant messages, or online video conferencing are all ways to stay connected.
- Maintain personal health. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, get plenty of sleep, and move your body. Yoga is a great alternative to help manage stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Find time for you. Rediscover your passion for reading, a favorite hobby, or TV show. Whatever it is that you enjoy, be sure to factor some “me time” into your schedule.
- Seek help. If you find yourself struggling, consider talking to your primary care doctor. They can help by offering mental health resources or referring you to a therapist. Counseling is more widely available now with telehealth than ever before. Your employer may have an assistance program that provides free counseling sessions. If you need immediate help, call one of the free 24/7 hotlines available nationwide.
InnovAge’s Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly,
or PACE, supports family caregivers by providing and coordinating all healthcare
for their older loved ones, including all medically-necessary healthcare, transportation, social interaction, engaging activities, balanced nutrition, and more. Knowing these needs are met gives family members room to be more of a loved one than a caregiver.
“It’s changed [my loved one’s] life knowing she has a support team that makes her feel very cared for,” says one caregiver. “It takes the stress off of me and makes me happy to see her taken care of.”
The goal of PACE is to help older adults live independently, in their own homes and communities, for as long as safely possible. Those in the program receive most of their care at a center in their local community
. InnovAge’s medical experts are dedicated to providing personalized healthcare for each person enrolled in the program. Each senior has an assigned team of 11 experts who develop a comprehensive, personalized care plan for them. This interdisciplinary care team – including physicians, nurses, therapists, dentists, and social workers – meets daily to review cases and adjust individual care plans, as needed. This includes specialty care and medication management.
“InnovAge was amazing for both my mom and me,” says one caregiver. “I recommend it to anyone needing help caring for a parent.”
The program can also help ease the financial strain many families face. InnovAge has a team of senior care experts who can help older adults and their caregivers review their options for Medicare and Medicaid based on their unique situation. Most people enrolled in PACE enjoy the program at little to no cost. PACE covers 100% of the costs of medically necessary care as determined by the interdisciplinary team. This can include care provided at a nursing home or skilled nursing facility.
“What brought me to InnovAge was the mission of the organization. Letting people age when they’re dealing with frailty is something that’s personally very important to me,” says InnovAge Chief Information Officer Alice Raia
She continues, “I think about my mom throughout the last few years of her life – being on her own and depending on a lot of people and not having the ability to be mobile and get outside of her home. I often think what her experience would have been like had she been able to participate in an experience like we provide at InnovAge. There was a lot of coordination and paperwork that we had to keep track of while we took care of her. This is why I’m so passionate about PACE – the program does all of this.”