Top-10 Tips for Beginning Caregivers: Insiders’ Advice

When you decide to care for an elderly parent, you do so out of love, responsibility or compassion. Not because you’re trained to.

The world of eldercare brings challenges you may not have expected. To give you a head start, we asked four geriatric-care managersfor their top tips for beginning caregivers.
Their main message: Be organized, cultivate realistic expectations and embrace when it’s time to seek help.
Tips on Communication
“Never tell a parent what they should do; always use I messages—like, ‘Mom I am concerned about your weight loss,’ not, ‘Mom you should eat more protein or have desert.”
—Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, executive director, Eldercare Services (in-home care and geriatric-care management), Bay Area, CA; immediate past president, National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers
 
“Respect your limits and those of your family member. If you have unresolved emotional issues with the person that you are caring for, respect those. It is OK to farm out certain areas of caregiving. Some family members are not going to be comfortable with you giving them a shower or managing their finances. Have frank conversations in the beginning to avoid future issues.”
— Kristyan Calhoun, director, Senior Avenues Geriatric Care Management, Yakima, WA
Tips on Education and Information

The unknown is always scarier than the known. List those things that are keeping you up at night or creep into your thoughts as you are going through your day. Take 15 minutes to research solutions, and continue to do this every day until you have the answer to your problem. Things that seem overwhelming will continue to overwhelm until you face these. The answer is there, and people who have gone on your journey before you have the answer. Use your time wisely, and reach out to those people.”—Calhoun

 

“Educate yourself about the disorder. You can’t deal with what you don’t know. The Internet is a good source for beginning to learn, but in order to really learn, you will need to invest time attending seminars, support groups, and counseling or coaching.”
—Nataly Rubinstein, MSW, LCSW, C-ASWCM, owner, Alzheimer’s Care Consultants, Miami Beach, FL; author, Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide
 
“Gather information on your parents’ health history, medications, legal documents, financial issues and values: Do your parents want to live in their own home? Do they want to be near family or a church or club? Do they want their pets with them? What is it that gives their lives meaning and purpose? That is what you never want to take away if possible.”
—Fodrini-Johnson
“See if your parents are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to by going onto BenefitsCheckUp.org.”
—Fodrini-Johnson
“Keep a simple binder or notebook handy. When you make a phone call or receive a vital letter in the mail, add it to the notebook. Keeping a chronological journal of your journey as a caregiver can save you time and money. As a care manager I cannot tell you how valuable it has been to be able to contact an insurance carrier and ask for the same person that I spoke to the week prior. A doctor’s office will take you more seriously if you are able to know that date and time that you called to request that referral or prescription. It also serves as a reminder later in life as to the journey that you were on and what was involved.”
—Calhoun
Tips on Getting Help
“Know when to get help. I hear all of the time that elder-law attorneys are too expensive. In my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold. They will protect the family member and yourself by giving you the guidance and the legal tools necessary to plan financial and health-care needs. The quickest way to get into trouble is to not do this.”
—Calhoun
 
“If you struggle managing your own finances, don’t take on someone else’s. There are bookkeepers that can do this quickly and effectively and can avoid criticism from family members or government entities.”
—Calhoun
 
“Seek and accept help. A certified geriatric-care manager is the professional best suited to guide family caregivers through the wealth of resources and support available to caregivers and their elderly loved ones. Reaching out and embracing the team approach is a commendable step toward finding the best care path for all family members.”
—Alissa Schramm, BS, MS, CMC, president, Compass Elder Care Specialists, Denver, CO (specializing in helping out-of-town families with loved ones in the Denver area)
Leigh Ann Otte is a professional writer who specializes in aging issues and senior care.

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