13 Secrets that Make Caregiving Easier

"As dad's Alzheimer's progresses, I don't know how to get through to him anymore." "There aren't enough hours in the day for me to get everything done." "Mom's requests are outrageous!"

These types of questions and comments are very common on AgingCare.com. Caregivers struggle with their jobs every day. As one issue is solved, a new challenge arises. When caregivers take care of an elderly family member, the roles are reversed. Now the caregiver is the "adult" and must find the best way to "get through to" an elderly parent….and to understand their needs.

These concepts can help get you in the right "mindset" for caregiving – and we hope make your life a little easier.

Remember the Person Inside

Your parent is likely different mentally and/or physically than the way you remember from years past. To respond to your parent's needs, you have to know him/her – and you do, probably better than most people. Your parent may have changed, but they are the same person on the inside. Always keep that person in mind as you give care.

Re-Think Personal Boundaries

When it comes to personal boundaries – what can be talked about and what physical assistance can be given – flexibility and complete honesty is key. Topics that may have been taboo at one time -- like toileting and bodily functions – are now essential subject matter. Your parent may have trouble bathing or getting on and off the toilet. However, they are probably embarrassed to talk about it or get help. If so, be the one to the start the conversation. Be candid, empathetic and honest. Help them feel comfortable about communicating their feelings to you, then have the courage to tell them how you feel. Once the topic is addressed or the assistance is given, it will likely become a non-issue. So face it head on.

Have Patience

Patience really is a virtue when it comes to caregiving. There will be times when everything your parent does is annoying, frustrating or downright dumb. But don't take it out on them. Remove yourself from the situation for a moment, take a deep breath and address the situation once you calm down. This is very important to maintaining your own mental health. Stress and pent-up frustration take a big toll on caregivers.

Trust

When you are providing the most intimate care to an elderly person, they must trust you completely. And you must trust yourself. Have faith in your ability to be a caregiver. No one is perfect. You're in unknown territory. There are no rule books to prepare you for the role. Make decisions based on the situation and perform your role with confidence. It can be frightening, but you have to have the courage to do the best you can. And most importantly, seek help when you need it!

Arm Yourself with Knowledge

Learn all that you can about your loved one's condition. There is a lot of information out there. Many before you have had to deal with the same condition or ailment that your parent suffers from. Find information from healthcare professionals, the internet or friends who have gone through similar situations. Knowledge is power. It can guide you and instill confidence. Furthermore, when you demonstrate that you are competent to make decisions about their care, your loved one will relax and become more compliant with the regimens that you develop.

Do It From the Heart

You may have taken on the role of caregiver because there was no one else to do it. You got the job whether you wanted it or not. But if it's yours, commit to it. Don't view caring for an elderly parent as an obligation. Approach caregiving as something you do from your heart. Your job is important. You are having a positive impact on the life of another. Caregiving is a selfless act. Make it something you want to do…not have to do. It's always easier to do something that you want to do.

Have Humility

Even though your elderly parent is impaired, he or she still has an opinion. They can still teach important lessons about life and love. Be willing to learn from your loved one and avoid arrogance that may come from frustration. Don't disregard their opinion without giving it some thought. Take time to consider their point of view. Respond to your parent as the individual human being they were before they became "the patient."

Look for Non-Verbal Clues

Body language is a big part of human communication and interaction. Your elderly parent may be visibly uncomfortable or agitated, but unable to express what is wrong. If you take the attitude of "well, if you're not going to tell me what's wrong, then I'm not going to worry about it," you might be missing a critical health problem or care need. Be sensitive to subtle non-verbal cues. Your loved one's responses, no matter how simple, open the door for you to more accurately understand what they need, or how much they need.

Be Responsive…with Limits

This doesn't mean you have to jump every time your parent calls. But also don't ignore your loved one when they express a need. Even if you have to explain that the request is not possible, or that you can't get to it right now, let them know that you heard them. If they think you are ignoring them, they will likely become angry, and then you have a new problem on your hands.

Be Present

With caregiving comes an endless list of tasks. With so much to do, you probably feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. But don't get caught in the trap of just trying to get it all done and working "around" your loved one. Take the time to notice what's in their eyes, their tone of voice, and what they are saying. Take a few minutes to spend time with them and try to enjoy their company. If your loved one senses that you're doing the job because you want to, they'll be more cooperative and more willing to work out the compromises.

Communicate with Touch

As we get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of caregiving, we sometimes forget to show affection. Too often, we only touch our parents when we're helping them get up, or dress. Everyone needs some human touch: A hug, holding a hand, or a simple pat on the arm. Attention and affection makes your parent feel like less of a burden. They'll feel more comfortable, less frightened and more important. If they know you really do care, maybe….just maybe… they'll think twice before spewing an ugly remark or throwing a tantrum.

Be Non-Judgmental

Getting old isn't easy to accept. As they age, your parent still has a strong desire to remain independent and in control of their own lives for as long as possible. In their place, wouldn't you feel the same way? Sometimes, their words or actions are based on frustration or fear of getting old and not being able to care for themselves anymore. When they need assistance getting up from a seated position, have trouble bathing, or have to give up the keys to the car, it's a dose of reality that the life they once knew is gone forever. Have tolerance, and practice non-judgment. Put yourself in their shoes.

Build Teamwork

Work together, not against each other. Being a caregiver requires teamwork between you and your loved one. Of course, it takes two, but the first step is to develop that "teamwork" attitude yourself. Then, you can work on getting your elder to take the same frame of mind. Everything is a little easier when you're working with someone, rather than against them. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are part of the team as well. Working together streamlines time and effort and builds confidence.

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