How do you manage two?
Any caregiver knows that providing care for one aging loved one can be challenging. But when you’re caring for two, it’s not just twice the work — it’s more! First and foremost, caregivers need to acknowledge the amount of work involved and practice self-care to avoid burnout. While it’s very important to spend time with the people you care about, you must also include yourself as one of them.
It’s also important to evaluate and determine the needs of the individual: While one parent may have more significant needs, the other may simply crave companionship. Recognize the importance of setting boundaries in what you are able to do from the onset so it’s easier to ask for help and delegate tasks. Both you and your aging parents know that time together is the most valuable thing you have, and yet they may be uncomfortable with the role reversal — or even admitting they need assistance.
Some indicators that demonstrate parents need extra care can include whether they are eating normally or not, if their personal hygiene is being managed, the cleanliness of the house, their mobility and ability to drive safely or if they are becoming forgetful — forgetting to open mail or pay bills, missing appointments or forgetting when something is cooking.
Siblings and parents should sit down as a family to have the difficult conversation (likely a series of conversations) about Mom and Dad’s current well-being, wishes when they can no longer live independently, how the children can help and what financial resources are available. For siblings that live far away, an in-person visit may help demonstrate any changes in Mom and Dad’s ability to care for themselves that necessitate needing extra help with everyday activities.
A great first step in caring for both elderly parents is to determine what each parent will need, and then put an organizational system into place that helps streamline needs and errands. For example, it’s convenient to “batch” certain things together, like doctors’ appointments scheduled for both parents at the same time. Tandem appointments save time and avoid unnecessary running around; if needed, ask a friend to go along to help with time in the waiting room or if both parents require assistance getting in and out of the vehicle. Prescription pick-ups can be coordinated to happen at the same time for both parents, and all medications for both parents can be organized and parceled out for the entire month at one time. Groceries can be delivered. Make meals in batches — portion, label and freeze them for convenience. Many laundromats offer laundry service for everyday items.
There are options aplenty when it comes to asking for help. Siblings who are willing to share the load, mother’s helpers who can help with errands and other simple tasks and even volunteer organizations who provide companionship are all wonderful resources. There are many in-home care and adult-day care options to assist with both practical needs and social activities. When the time is right for one or both parents, Assisted Living communities can be the best answer for both the parents and caregiver.
Most importantly, remember that no one has to go it alone. Identify your support system, organize the needs of each parent, delegate (to whomever is helping you) and make time for your personal self-care. The time with your aging loved ones is priceless, and lightening your load will help make caring for them more special.