Life hacks are a way to save time and sanity, and family caregivers certainly can use more of both. In many cases, caregivers are not only devoting many hours to helping their aging parents but they also have obligations to spouses and school-age children. So, life hacks for the busy caregiver are just what they need.
That’s definitely been the case for author and blogger Liz O’Donnell, whose first book, “Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman,” details the demands on working mothers who are often overwhelmed by their voluminous “to-do” list on a typical day-in-the-life.
Shortly after she wrote the book, she started to realize that the “working mother” title only half-described what many women were going through once their parents reached an advanced age. “As I was promoting the book, I had this one epic day that started at 5 a.m. and ended around 11 p.m.,” recalls O’Donnell, who has two children, ages 12 and 14.
This day not only entailed getting her kids off to school and meeting work obligations, it also involved taking her mother to a doctor’s appointment and helping her dad fix his computer. She finished off with a speaking engagement for working mothers about life/career balance. It was only when she was driving home that it occurred to her: “It’s not just about being a working mother. I also had a pretty intense day being a working daughter.”
This revelation prompted O’Donnell to start Working Daughter, a website that caters to the needs of women juggling caregiving and career. O’Donnell’s own caregiving duties escalated when both of her parents were diagnosed with terminal illnesses on the same day. “Then I was really in,” she says. “And now I’m slightly obsessed with helping other women because it’s so hard to balance work and elder care.”
O’Donnell put much of way she learned as a working woman/family caregiver in an e-book, “55 Life Hacks for the Working Daughter.” Here are some of O’Donnell’s favorite tips that work for caregivers who have jobs, and many tips that also work for just about everyone.
Learn how to work from anywhere.
“One thing I never, ever do is travel without my laptop, my MiFi, which allows me to get internet wherever I go, and my cell phone fully charged,” O’Donnell says. She has worked in doctor’s offices, hospitals, ER waiting rooms, and the parking lot of an assisted living facility. When her mother was in hospice, O’Donnell set up a mini-office so she could be there as much as possible. “There are only so many hours in a day,” O’Donnell says. “I always have a bag packed so I can work anywhere, any time.”
Keep paperwork handy.
Not that long ago, O’Donnell received a phone call at 1 o’clock in the morning: Her father, who resides in assisted living, had fallen and had to be taken to the emergency room. She was out the door in 15 minutes because fortunately she already had a folder of important paperwork in the car. “It has power of attorney, copy of the health care proxy, copy of the advance directive, and a list of medications,” O’Donnell says. “I also have a photo of all those things on my cell phone. So, there’s no scrambling around for information in the middle of the night.”
Keep useful things in your car.
It’s also a good idea to keep other handy items in your car. Among the items that O’Donnell has found useful:
- A wrap or a sweater because sometimes those ER waiting rooms get cold;
- Sneakers so you can go for a walk (after a few hours at a hospital or care facility, it’s always great to get outdoors, breathe in the fresh air, or just clear your head, says O’Donnell); and
- Toothbrush, contact solution, and other toiletries, just in case you need to freshen up.
Call for same-day doctor’s appointments.
Instead of using urgent care, try to get your parent a same-day appointment with his or her primary physician. O’Donnell says the best time to call is between 10 and 11 a.m. “If you call before that, the doctor’s office hasn’t processed the day’s cancellations, and if you call after that, they’ll probably be filled. There seems to be a sweet spot—about a half hour to an hour after the office opens to get that same-day appointment.”
Map out chores.
Chatting with O’Donnell, I let her know about my own life hacks in caring for my mother, who recently turned 90. Some of the time-savers I’ve used are “no-brainers”—i.e., do her laundry when I do the rest of my family’s and combine our grocery lists to make one rather than multiple trips to the store. I also have a “game plan” for errands, mapping them out so I can mostly make right-hand turns, which cuts down on wasted time at stoplights and trying to cut across traffic. “I think anything like that, where you map out your day to save time, is really practical advice for caregivers,” O’Donnell says.
Take time for gratitude.
O’Donnell suggests having a daily “gratitude minute” to get the day off to a good start. “The way I do it is I set my smartphone timer every morning,” she says. “Then I take 60 seconds to name all the things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s a big thing, like the fact that I’m healthy or my dad’s in good shape these days. Sometimes it’s something small like coffee or a new pair of shoes. Caregiving, especially elder care, can be so fraught with emotion. So, [having] just 60 seconds, uninterrupted, can be really important because I find our attitudes really do have an impact on how well we get through the day.”
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