Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten an up-close, personal look at family caregiving. My grandfather, who is a resident here at Buffalo Hill Terrace, has been having some health problems. Fortunately, he’s doing better, but it’s meant a lot of running around for my mother (his daughter). And this week, my grandmother (my father’s mother) is in town. She’s been having a problem that my dad has the skills to fix, so she decided to pay him a visit. Since my dad and I both work full time, my mom is the one doing a lot of the preparation and day-to-day caregiving for my grandmother, as well.
It’s meant that things are extra busy, especially for my mom, and a lot of planning has gone in to making sure that everyone gets where they need to be. I help when I can, and I’m lucky to work in an environment that understands and values family commitments, but there are limits to what I’m able to do. The same goes for my father, a professional in independent practice.
What this has shown me is that while caregiving for a senior is certainly a collaborative enterprise, much of the work out of necessity often falls on one member of a family. It’s usually the person whose schedule has the most built-in flexibility. My mom works part-time and has many interests and responsibilities beyond caregiving, but the caregiving falls mostly to her because her other responsibilities can more easily be scheduled around it.
This may be practical, but it’s definitely not fair. I know my mom is happy to take care of her dad and, when the need arises, of her mother-in-law. She does it because she loves them and because they need care. And my dad is involved with both his own mother’s needs (of course) and with my grandfather’s. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that she doesn’t need or want more support. Here are some thing I try to keep in mind when thinking about how to be a supportive family member to someone caring for a senior:
- Careful planning is important. The primary caregiver knows this, but we can all make sure we’re part of the plan. If you can say, for example, “I am available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after four and usually on the weekends,” you let the person doing the planning know that you’re willing to help and when it’s practical to pass a task on to you.
- This planning is all very well, but no amount of planning can prevent a crisis. Crises are often the moments in which caregivers need the most help, and if we can be flexible, they’re also the times when those of us around them can be the most helpful. If we can respond by doing what’s needed in a crisis, we can take quite a bit of stress off of a caregiver’s plate.
- Remember to enjoy being with the senior who’s your loved one and that often, caregivers, too, find joy in the work. Caregiving is stressful, but caregivers very often do it out of love. If we can approach it joyfully, remembering that our time with our aging loved ones is always limited, we can help reduce stress for both ourselves and for the main caregivers we support.