In this country, there is a growing problem regarding a lack of supportive resources for family caregivers. There are government programs, charities and nonprofit organizations that might be able to help intermittently, but what caregivers often need most is sound advice, regular respite and an extra set of hands.
The truth is that friends may scatter when one begins caring for a spouse or parent, and not everyone has siblings or other family members they can depend on to share the load. It is crucial for each caregiver to take inventory of their personal supports in order to utilize their help as efficiently as possible. A carefully selected caregiving team is a necessary complement to a loved one’s plan of care. Use these five steps to build your team.
Step 1: Draft a List of Prospective Team Members
Write down the name of each family member, friend or neighbor that you and your loved one interact with on a regular basis. Forego any initial judgements or doubts about their usefulness in your care plan. You want to avoid limiting any potential sources of assistance from the very beginning, so just let the ideas flow.
Step 2: Assess Each Individual’s Strengths
Now is the time to assess the strong suit of each person on your list. Is your best friend financially savvy? Can your cousin listen to you vent without interrupting or casting judgement? Does your neighbor offer to keep an eye on Mom when she’s tinkering outside in the garden? Each of these people has specific talents or capabilities that can help you execute your care plan, and most have something to contribute, whether big or small. However, be sure to factor in each person’s attitude before asking them to join your team. Your sister may have plenty of free time to drive Dad to and from doctor’s appointments, but if she brings negativity or criticism to your regular routine, then the drawbacks may outweigh the benefits of her involvement.
Step 3: Create Your All-Star Care Team
Revise your remaining list to create a foolproof roster of people who will assist you with hands-on care and day-to-day tasks. Do not include anyone who may make your duties more difficult. This final list is your go-to tool for getting outside help, whether it is planned well in advance or needed at the last minute. Include each person’s contact information and, if possible, an outline of their weekly schedule. This will help you quickly reference when a team member is available to pitch in.
Step 4: Assign Roles for Each Member
Once you have narrowed down your list to reliable, positive individuals, identify specific caregiving tasks and gaps in your care plan that would be a good fit for each one. Friends and family often wish they could help, but they are typically unsure of what would be useful to contribute. Individuals who have never walked in a caregiver’s shoes tend to have a difficult time understanding all the responsibilities that are involved.
It is best for caregivers to be very specific about the kinds of assistance they would appreciate. For example, if your adult son lives nearby, ask if he can tend to yardwork or any home maintenance projects at his grandmother’s house once or twice a month. If you struggle to prepare dinner on Wednesdays (your busiest day of the week), see if Mom’s friend from church can pick her up for a weekly dinner date. The goal of creating this team is to be able to meet your loved one’s needs (as well as your own) without every single responsibility falling solely on your shoulders. A care plan that lacks meaningful support and respite time is not viable over the long term.
Step 5: Add Some Pros to Your Team
Relatives and friends aren’t the only ones to recruit for your care team. You may feel most comfortable with these people helping out because you know them personally, but remember that not everyone has the personality, time or resources to be even a part-time caregiver. Fortunately, there are a number of professionals who can facilitate the technical aspects of providing care. A financial planner can assist with complicated fiscal decisions, an elder law attorney can ensure that you and your loved one are legally prepared for the future, and a geriatric care manager (also known as an Aging Life Care Professional) can coordinate the care your loved one deserves. A social worker or advisor at your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) can help you find and apply for federal, state and local resources that can assist you in your caregiving duties.
Any remaining gaps in your care plan can be filled by paid caregivers and other services. For example, in-home care and adult day care services can provide supervision and stimulation for your loved one when you need to run errands, attend your own doctor’s appointments, enjoy some respite time or go to work. If housekeeping rarely fits into your daily or weekly routine, consider hiring a cleaning service or arranging to have a few of these tasks added to your in-home caregiver’s responsibilities. Healthy meal delivery, pre-sorted prescription medications, and transportation services are some other options that can simplify your schedule and reduce your workload.
A comprehensive caregiving team not only assists with daily duties but can also provide valuable back-up care in instances when the primary caregiver cannot see to their responsibilities. The more support a caregiver has, the less likely they are to experience caregiver burnout and the more sustainable their care plan will be.
Who Should Join Your Caregiving Team?
- Family and Friends
- Significant Other
- Adult Children
- Close Friends
- Members of Local Community or Religious Groups
- Physicians (Primary Care and Specialists)
- Elder Law Attorneys
- Geriatric Care Managers (Aging Life Care Professionals)
- Social Workers
- Financial Advisors
- Home Care Agencies and Professional Caregivers
- Adult Day Care Centers
- Charities, Organizations and Support Programs
- VA, Medicare and/or Medicaid Advisor(s)