Starting Your Role As Caregiver
Make sure your loved one is receiving all the medical and financial benefits available to him. Communicate with providers often to keep them updated and let them know that your loved one is not easy prey for the bureaucracy -- he has you on his side!
If your parent served in the military, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a host of resources, including primary medical care, hospitalization, mental health services, home health care, and nursing home care.
Don't let yourself get overwhelmed by anything -- transportation issues, meals, even household chores -- without first checking with your local church or other religious or community groups, which often provide these services for older adults. There are good souls out there who want to help. Let them.
Know your neighborhood options: senior day programs, home health aides, assisted living, group living, senior foster care, temporary nursing home care, and so forth. Network! Network! Network!
Give yourself recognition for what you do.
"Somehow, I had lost track of how quickly time was passing. Over the years, I helped make the adjustments in their lives when they were needed -- I bought blouses with Velcro closures for Mom when her arthritis got the best of her, and I taught Dad to use the Internet so he could maintain his old interests and even develop new ones. But it wasn't until they both wound up with minor injuries after a car accident that I realized how much they relied on me. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility at first, but when I took stock of the situation and realized that I was now a caregiver -- which sounded like someone who walks around in a white uniform and squeaky shoes -- then I was able to organize the tasks and make the adjustments in my life that would be necessary for me to do the job well. None of it was easy, but now I'm proud to add 'caregiver' to all the other things I've accomplished in my life."
You can accomplish a lot over the phone -- but you have to be willing to spend half a day on hold. Be patient! The hold time might go by faster if you fortify yourself with a good book, a crossword puzzle, or some knitting.
Find out if you are eligible for any sort of free or reimbursed home (or other respite) care, whether it's a nursing service or companionship just for a few hours a week. These services must be prescribed by a doctor if they are to be reimbursed. If the doctor doesn't suggest this sort of care, don't be shy about raising the subject. He may not be aware of your loved one's day-to-day situation.
Keep everyone in the family informed as to how your loved ones are getting along. The earlier you involve family members in their care, the more involved and motivated everyone will feel. Even if it's easier for you to do something yourself than it is to suffer through phone calls with relatives you may not get along with, take the time (and patience) to make the connection. You'll need a team at some time, even if you haven't yet reached that point.