Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year, New You - WHO is on your support team?

 So what does an owl say?  If you look at this little guy, he looks a bit surprised, perhaps caught off guard.  Many caregivers do the same when asked WHO they have supporting them. 

Who is your go-to person for help and support in a crisis? If you have a crisis plan, then you’re prepared and worry about uncertainties will not weigh down our outlook. But it’s not about a plan of action for a specific crisis. Really, you wouldn't exactly call it a crisis if you'd prepared for it now would you. Being prepared is about having people around you who can be counted on to help.  Note I say people, not person. Building your care TEAM is an essential part of effective caregiving, not just for the person needing care, but for the sanity of the primary caregiver. 
Primary Caregivers (PC’s) take on many duties they never think about. Usually, far more than they should to maintain a healthy life balance, but that topic will be covered later. If you or a loved one are a PC, then take time to sit down and write down all the tasks accomplished in a day or two. Be detailed.

Then ask the tough question:  What if I/she/he can’t do them.
(For the rest of this thought, let’s assume you’re the PC)

Can’t?  What can’t I do? If c-a-n-t seems like a four-letter-word that does not exist in your vocabulary, read this carefully. We know you - those caregivers who refuse to acknowledge their human bodies that get sick or for various reasons become unable to be in charge of absolutely everything. You’re overstressed and running on empty already. How do I know? I was one of them. The majority of take-charge caregivers get that way because they have had to at one point or another - as a survival skill. Perhaps it was an emergency situation where no one else could or did step up to pull things together and now everyone looks to you for the answers.

Breaking down the daily tasks of your caregiving role will help a you realize how much you are doing, and shed light on certain tasks that can be handed over to others and when a hand off might be the winning play of the game.
  • Could laundry duty be handled by someone else?  Maybe Mom or Dad is in assisted living but you insist on taking the laundry home to do rather than use the laundry service offered? If the service really won’t work, who else could do that laundry? That person just might be the one to go grab clothes to bring to the hospital for Mom so you don’t have to leave her side to do it. Or, the cousin who takes over laundry duty might not spend the night in the emergency room, but by having her involved more, you feel better about calling her to take your kids to school when you’ve had to.
  • Tax time is looming and the statements are coming in. Do you handle all the mail?  Could the bill paying and sorting through tax documents be passed on to someone else who is great with numbers? They might find valuable deductions or see estate planning issues you’re too tired to look for.
  • Transportation - do you have to handle it all? Go through the list of physicians or regular shopping and see if any are the kind someone else can manage. Perhaps it’s the annual trip for teeth cleaning or a few grocery runs. Having someone else who knows how to get Mom or Dad in and out of a car easily will help ease your mind if they have to be asked to manage other trips because you have to schedule an appointment for yourself on grocery day or if you need to stay home with a sick child.
Be aware that you may be holding on too tightly to the enormous task list you face each day. Sometimes it’s out of fear of the failure and sometimes a fear of success - someone else's. It can be hard to hear that someone else can do what you’ve been doing out of love. Remember you’re still an MVP (most valuable player) who keeps it all together. But letting others run a few passes in the game now and then will let you be stronger when you have to take on the next big play. 

Take time to build your WHO list - this week! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year, New You

I was recently asked to write an article for the new issue of All About Seniors which is an incredible resource for services catering to the needs of seniors and caregivers, put out by Striped Rock Publications. I share the piece with you here and will be fleshing out its five main points in upcoming posts. There are so many ways to make this year a positive one, even if you're a harried caregiver wondering how you can possibly make it through another year of the long road you've been traveling. My hope is that by sharing a new perspective for the new year, you will find a.....
New Year, New You

Opening the pages of a new calendar gives people a moment to pause and take stock of how they are filling those empty spaces. For many, they’ve just closed a calendar filled with unexpected happenings. For seniors and caregivers, those are often health issues that took up much more time as well as emotional and physical energy than they ever wished to make room for. Sometimes we don’t have choices as to the challenges we face. But the good news is that we do have choices with how we face them. Here are a few ways that seniors and caregivers can designate space on their calendars and in their busy lives for taking proactive steps for making those unexpected challenges more manageable in this, a new year. 

  1. Who is your go-to person for help and support in a crisis? If you have a crisis plan, then you’re prepared and worry about uncertainties will not weigh down your outlook. For seniors, perhaps it’s time to get the children involved a little more. For adult caregivers of aging parents, perhaps it’s time to check in with the siblings or friends to get everyone on the same page for where things stand now.
  1. What are you learning? Have you or your loved one faced a health challenge by pretending it doesn’t exist? We all know someone who has. How are you educating yourself about your needs? The fast pace of medical advances challenges us, the consumers of medical care, to educate ourselves. Learn about your condition and ask that doctor questions. No matter what stage of life you are in, the better you understand your own body, the better you and your doctor can create a winning team to avert medical crises and maintain good health.
  1. When are you taking time for yourself? Everyone needs something of their own. Whether it’s getting your nails done once a month, taking an art class, or planning time when no one else is making demands on you, schedule ‘me’ time, now. If you can’t work in a large garden any more, plant a flower box. Find options for activities you enjoy that you can do. For seniors, it’s understandable to mourn the things your body may not let you do anymore, but take charge by finding new interests or building on old interests in ways you can still connect with them.
  1. Where are you gaining support? Build a community for support and encouragement as your life flows through the year. For some, this centers on church or religious connections. Others look to senior activity centers. Some are part of the growing online support groups. Plan time for building those networks, and if you don’t have one yet, find one and schedule time for nurturing the connection.
  1. Why and How are you doing the things you do? Check your motivation for how you approach people and activities in your life. Are you doing them because you want to or because you have to? Can you turn your perspective around a bit and find ways to make things you have to do, things you want to do? Adopting a more positive way of approaching your life will make the whole year seem brighter and more manageable despite the challenges that may come. Try writing a theme for each month and focusing on that as you approach your daily activities. Consider how you might use the themes of love, adventure, kindness, creativity and gratitude to guide you through the months ahead.
When looking at your new calendar, the key word is ‘new.’ Give yourself a break.  Don’t be so hard on yourself this year. We all wish we could do more. Personally, God’s never delivered me the 28-hour day I’ve requested for years and He hasn’t let me turn back time to all me to fix things I wish I’d done differently. But we all have now. Make the most of it. Let the hurts and frustrations of the past stay there and use what you’ve learned to set a new tone for this year.