Take care of loved ones - and yourself
Caring for a loved one is complex. To help you out, last month we offered some tips for caregivers and friends of caregivers. The many moving pieces of caregiving – physical, emotional, financial, legal, logistical, and more – can be overwhelming. Here are a few more tips and resources to help you on the caregiving journey. And it is indeed a journey. Along the way you meet many people, from awesome big hearts to clueless money worshippers. And it is part of your life journey.
Avoid medication “misadventures”
Medications are like a land mine. Taking medicine “as directed” sounds good on a TV ad, but skipped doses, double doses, bad combinations, and side effects are common. Often the medication list in the medical record does not match what is in the pill box or actually taken. Create a drug list on your computer (for easy revisions as medications change). List in columns when the medication is taken, name of the drug, purpose and what it looks like (such as blue capsule, white tablet, yellow round). Put it on bright colored paper and in a plastic sheet protector. Bring it to every medical encounter. Also, keep the Beers List of Potentially Inappropriate Drugs for Elderly handy: http://tinyurl.com/beerslistRX
Simplify medications as much as possible. Get quick information about specific medicines at www.drugs.com. The risks of bad interactions and medication errors increase exponentially as the number of medications increases. For every good effect you get from a drug, you can also get effects that you don’t want. Ask which medications can be eliminated. For example, pills prescribed for urinary problems may no longer be effective. Lactose tablets may not be needed if the person has lactose-free milk. If constipation is not a problem, long term use of laxatives are not warranted nor advisable.
Fill two to four weeks of pill boxes. If you, the caregiver, get sick and cannot refill the pills, having more pill boxes prepared gives you more flexibility. Putting the pill bottles in plastic bags sorted by when they are used – a.m., noon, p.m. – makes for faster refills and fewer errors. Avoid pill boxes with three rows (morning, noon and night) if it might be difficult to open that middle row.
Simplify medication refills. At least one pharmacy chain has an app that lets you scan the bar code on the medicine bottle to order refills. Or you can order online or by phone. Automatic refills can create havoc as medications and dosages change. At the end of the year, you can download a summary of expenses for taxes. Use one pharmacy so all the drug, medical, and financial information is in one place.
Care for the caregiver
Caregiving takes stamina, organization, and patience. It can feel endless. It is tough and caregivers need some breaks. Pace yourself and treat yourself. Sometimes all you can do is a nano-vacation, lasting a second when you have a chance to notice the stars while bringing out the garbage. But you also need time and help from others. Roads Scholar, which organizes travels for the 50+ crowd, gets it and gives caregiver scholarships (https://www.roadscholar.org/about/financial-assistance/caregiver-grants/).
Jokes about three guys walk into a bar have been replaced by many baby boomers with jokes like “You know you are a caregiver when you are sharing your screen during a web meeting at work and an ad for incontinence supplies pops up on your screen (happyhealthycaregiver.com). Or try this AARP video (http://tinyurl.com/caregiverhumor). Because caregiving is so complex, so exhausting, and so challenging that some humor can help. AARP, a long time champion of caregivers, has a great caregiver chatroom http://tinyurl.com/AARPcaregivingcmty and call in line 1-877-333-5885 (1-888-971-2013, Spanish).
With so many tasks calling for your attention, remember to make some quality time. Nothing replaces a meaningful visit. Most people prefer quality time over events and fanfare.
Legal check-ups are a good idea for everyone. Legal documents should be revisited at least after any of the Ds – death, decile (10 years), divorce, or onset of dementia. Many attorneys who specialize in the legal needs of seniors make home visits.
Talk about wishes for care, for activities, for what matters. Clarify what the caree wants for care and capture it in writing with a signed medical directive and an appointed medical surrogate. Five Wishes is a legal document written in everyday language for adults to express how they want to be cared for in case they can’t speak for themselves. https://agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes
Benefit from local events and resources
The Neighbors Network (www.neighborsnetworkfl.org, 321-209-2775) helps those 55 and older with services and support to facilitate living in the community “with a little help from their friends.”
AARP Florida is hosting a caregiving workshop on helping someone navigate health care, Saturday, Feb. 25, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Orlando Science Center.
The Senior Resource Alliance can provide information, resources, and services you may need (www.seniorresourcealliance.org, 407-514-1800.)
Dr. Nancy Rudner, local workplace nurse coach with HealthAction.biz, was a caregiver for several years and learned many tips from kind people along the way. Send your questions to [email protected]