November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize and honor family caregivers across the country. Because caregiving is often a 24/7 commitment, the 2017 theme is timely—“Caregiving Around the Clock.”
And for Debra Hallisey, caregiver and founder of Advocate for Mom and Dad, the theme rings particularly true. With more than 25 years of experience as a consultant building and enhancing corporate training programs, Hallisey lost her job due to caregiving issues.
“It was hard at the time, but I don’t regret making the choices I did to take care of my mom and dad,” she says.
Here, Hallisey offers 5 tips to survive—and even thrive—as a family caregiver.
1- Talk to anyone and everyone.
There’s so much to know about caregiving, most of us are unsure where to start. That was certainly the case for Hallisey when her father died and she became her mother’s caregiver. So she decided to gather as much information as possible, from as many sources as possible.
“When I realized I was going to be responsible for my mother, I started talking to everybody,” she says. “I would talk to strangers standing in line at ShopRite, and come home and write it all down.”
But that doesn’t mean she followed every piece of advice she received.
“Every family care plan is different,” she says. “Talk to everybody, but trust your gut. Use what works for you and leave the rest behind.”
2- Make a plan B.
Change is a given, so caregivers have to prepare for all possibilities—physically, financially, and otherwise.
Though Hallisey’s 85-year-old mother can still live at home with the help of a caregiver, Hallisey recognizes that might not always be the case.
“I know that with one bad fall, things might have to change,” she acknowledges. “I’ve done the research and I have enough knowledge now to make an informed decision about assisted living or skilled nursing. I know what the options are.”
In addition, she recognizes that her mother will most likely outlive her money, so she’s already started applying for Medicaid and exploring all her financial options—before the money runs out.
3 – Set boundaries.
As long as your loved ones have all their faculties, it’s important to have honest discussions and set caregiving boundaries together.
“Carees are going to look to you for everything because they trust you,” says Hallisey. “If you can help them understand what your boundaries are and why, they can become part of the solution.”
For example, there were a few things that Hallisey’s mom was used to other people doing for her, including putting in her eye drops. But after the two of them talked about ways to make the caregiving situation more manageable, her mom started doing those tasks herself. Not only has this taken some of the pressure off Hallisey, it has also allowed her mom to feel less helpless and more in control.
4 – Say yes to help.
In order to accept help from someone, you first have to know what you need help with, and then make a specific request. So, rather than saying, “Can you walk the dog sometime?” you could say, “Will you walk the dog on Monday afternoons?” Or, if you don’t need help at that moment, make sure you go back to the person later when you do have a specific request, says Hallisey.
Another way to make it easy for others to help is to buy gift cards to your local supermarkets. So when friends and family members ask if you need anything while they’re out, you can give them your list, and they can pay with your gift cards, says Hallisey. Sometimes the simplest things make all the difference.
5 – Reconnect with your loved one.
In the midst of the work involved in caregiving, it’s important to find moments to reconnect as parent and child rather than caree and caregiver.
“I realized that I’m so task-focused when I’m with her that we were losing the relationship of mom and daughter,” admits Hallisey. “If I’m only task-focused, she gets resentful and so do I.”
So Hallisey decided to start setting aside time to be her mother’s daughter, not her caregiver. For the two of them, that has meant making dinner together, playing cards together, and even taking an afternoon off to go shopping together.
“It’s incredibly rejuvenating for our relationship,” she says.
CHIME IN: What are your best caregiving survival tips?