Here are ten "life hacks"—or every day shortcuts—to help you stay productive (and, more importantly, sane) while taking care of an elderly loved one.

From a professional:

Rachel Becker, L.M.S.W., a social worker for CarePlanners, a patient and caregiver navigation company, offers three tips for saving time and money while caring for a loved one:

  1. Conduct a caregiver swap: Having trouble finding affordable respite care for your loved one? Becker proposes starting a care exchange with another family caregiver who lives near you. See if they would be willing to come over (or if you could drop your loved one off with them) for a few hours while you get a massage, or go to the dentist. Be sure to reciprocate the offer and pretty soon you'll have a sustainable source of vital respite care.
  2. Utilize the youth: Depending on where you live, you may be able to recruit young people from your neighborhood to help out with yard work and other household chores. Finding a trustworthy teen can seem like an impossible task, so Becker suggests searching for students who are members of the Kiwanis Club, Scouts, or those who play an active role in local, faith-based organizations.
  3. Be prepared: The official motto may belong to the Scouts, but this concise piece of advice can be a caregiver's best friend. Becker says preparation is particularly important when it comes to dealing with doctors and insurance companies. Before an appointment, familiarize yourself with your loved one's illness so you can have a productive and informed conversation with their doctor. Also invest time in understanding the insurance plans of you and your loved one. Knowing what's covered and what's not and the difference between an explanation of benefits and a bill can save both time and money.

From caregivers:

Two active members: Jola and PCVS, share a few of their hard-earned strategies for making day-to-day life a bit easier and more organized:

  1. Don't hold the phone: Between scheduling appointments with multiple doctors, and arguing with banks, insurance companies and pharmacies, taking care of an elderly loved one can mean spending hours a week on the phone. Jola urges her fellow caregivers not to let that time go to waste. "Avoid holding the phone to your ear until someone gets back on the phone 15 minutes later," she says. Invest in a wireless headset or use your device's speakerphone feature to keep your hands free to work their multi-tasking magic.
  2. Set aside space: Whether it's a bowl, a drawer, or a series of wall hooks, designate a particular space for the things you use every day (keys, wallet, cell phone, prescription pill bottles, etc.). Also, if your schedule is tight and somewhat predictable (i.e. you have to take mom to physical therapy every Tuesday and Thursday, grocery store trips occur on Sundays and Wednesdays) make room in your closet for shelves or baskets dedicated to specific days of the week. Every night, put the items you'll need for tomorrow's tasks in the basket, or on the shelf—this can help prevent a manic morning dash.
  3. Troubleshoot in advance: When they're working properly, the electronics in your life can be huge time-savers. However, they can be a nightmare to handle when they don't work the way you want them too. If you encounter this situation and are able to fix the problem yourself, make sure to write down the solution or mark it in the owner's manual. As Jola points out, "You're likely to have the same problem again long after you've forgotten how you fixed it last time."
  4. Dealing with lost items: According to PCVS, it helps to set time limits on how long you're willing to search for lost items. "I budget 15 minutes and then give up," she says, "Whatever it is will turn up when I'm not looking for it."
  5. Stockpile cards for special occasions: Making a last-minute trip to the Hallmark store because you forgot to get your daughter a birthday card can be bothersome. Creating a special card stash helped Jola bypass this frustrating situation. Gather a varied collection of birthday, holiday and get-well soon cards for future use. Money-saving hint: Buy holiday-themed cards in bulk when they go on sale after the celebration.
  6. Call ahead: Does this situation sound familiar: you go to the store, mid-week, in search of the one essential item you left off your weekly grocery list—only to find the shelf empty? Calling ahead to make sure the store is stocked with your must-have item can save both time and angst.
  7. Optimize online opportunities: Online shopping can save you loads of time and money. There are few things you can't buy off the Internet. You can even order groceries online, and either schedule a time to pick them up, or have them delivered right to your door.

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