Caring for a vulnerable person can be rewarding as well as frustrating. It can increase our self-esteem to know that we are helping someone in need, while at the same time it can burden us with guilt because we know we aren't perfect caregivers (no one is).
Caregiving is a continual learning process and no two situations are identical, but becoming as organized as possible and making an effort to stay that way can help relieve stress.
Each person's organization process is unique—what is orderly for one person may be a mess for someone else; what seems obsessively organized to you may appear simply tidy to a friend.
Regardless of those differences, sometimes a move toward change can be helpful. Below are some tips that may help you organize your life as a caregiver.
Organizing for an ordinary day
Most of us have typical daily routines we carry out with our loved ones even when we know that we must be alert for potential emergencies. Some thoughts about routine organization could include:
- Setting up medications: Most people use some type of container with medications arranged by day and/or time of day. This is easy. What I find not so easy is coping with the timing of insurance companies and a care receiver's need for medication. Ideally, there should be at least a week of reserve medication in case illness, weather or some other issue keeps you from picking up your loved one's prescription. I prefer a simple calendar for this task, but there are electronic calendars and other reminders available as well.
- Enhancements to the daily routine: A friend of mine saw the covered plates that some hospitals use to keep meals warm and inquired as to how to purchase one. Both the hospital and a manufacturer of these items gave him samples. While this may seem like a small concern, being able to keep food warm for a slow eater is a very nice perk. Other small but useful products can help make days more enjoyable. As a blogger on elder care, nearly every day I receive several messages about newly developed items. One of the best I've seen is a two handled mug. The mugs offer great stability and more independence for the elder. Being open to newly developed products can make a difference in daily care. Internet searches on products for elderly people can be informative and often rewarding.
- Being ready to handle an emergency is part of daily living: That may mean keeping snow cleared from your driveway and having warm clothes handy for you and your loved one. It could also mean keeping a bag packed with medications and supplies for a care receiver during a time when natural disasters are most likely to occur. Think about your loved one's needs ahead of time and plan for possible emergencies.
- Keep a written journal of a care receiver's current needs: This shouldn't take a lot of time if done daily and it could save you time in an emergency. It could also make it far easier to transfer care for your loved one to someone else should you suddenly not be able to provide their care.
- A second journal for yourself: Journaling can relieve frustration, clarify thoughts and simply keep track of how your life is going. You may want to treat yourself to a handsome journal of some kind. It needn't be expensive but something nice may encourage you to write. Conversely, you could dedicate a folder in your computer for this if you prefer typing.Journaling is one way to help you decide if you are reaching the time when you need more help with caregiving or you may use it to simply track your own moods.
- A dedicated calendar: A calendar specifically for keeping track of appointments, entertainment and other engagements concerning your loved one can be helpful. Some people may find this method cumbersome, while others prefer to have everything in one place. It's all about what works best for you.
- Reduce clutter: Yes, I know that seems impossible when we look at the medical paperwork that stuffs our mailboxes and all the extra equipment our loved ones need. However, some type of organization early on can save frustration in the event of an emergency, during tax time or simply when making a call to the physician's office. You don't need a sophisticated system – just one that makes sense to you.
- Allow for diminishing capacity of your care receiver: In elder care, a care receiver isn't likely to get well. Therefore, it serves everyone involved when we, as caregivers, anticipate future needs. This may mean checking out care facilities, even if you never intend to use one. Knowing the good adult day care facilities, the ideal in-home care agencies and the best assisted living and nursing homes in your community is essential knowledge for a lone caregiver to have.
- Find a way to do something you enjoy: You may be homebound with your elder or you may go out to help provide care for him or her. Either way, you should be able to listen to music you enjoy, read a book or spend time on the computer with a support group, at a minimum. You also deserve to see friends and enjoy some "me time."I'm aware that this sounds idealistic to many, but some self-care is a must to preserve your ability to provide care for others.
Organizing for a potential emergency
- Back up relief: You may or may not have anyone who can relieve you on a regular basis, but you definitely need to have backup help for emergencies. Whether that means that you complete paperwork ahead of time with an in-home care agency and perhaps use their services a few hours a month to stay on their radar, or you have a neighbor you can call, you need someone who can take over for you if you become temporarily incapacitated.
- Stay prepared for the most likely emergency: Seizures? Frequent falling? Diabetic issues? Do your best, of course, to prevent these emergencies, but also try to be prepared for whatever you must do until you receive professional assistance.
- Keep an information folder in an obvious place: This folder should have resource phone numbers such as your care receiver's doctor, the clinic's off-hours nurse number and prescription names and dosages along with the pharmacy number. You'll also want to list names of emergency family and friend contacts, copies of insurance and other medical cards, and a list of allergies and other essential information for yourself and/or emergency personnel. A copy of the Power Of Attorney for health care is a must, as well. Also, try to keep that daily journal with the folder so that up-to-date information is handy.
As with most suggestions I've made through my years of writing articles, I'm simply telling readers what's worked for me. I hope that some of these suggestions will give you food for thought so that you can organize or simplify your caregiving life. Try out the ideas that appeal to you and if you have additional tips that you find helpful please let us know.