What to do When Caregiving Happens Suddenly

Are you a caregiver to a spouse…an older parent or grandparent or perhaps to a child?  Being a caregiver is one of the top stressors that anyone can face.  It can be an overwhelming experience.  Know that you can embrace the caregiving role when you have a plan, with resources and support along the way.

Most people are creatures of habit.  Some of us plan our day.  For others, the day plans us.  No matter our personal style, when a crisis occurs and we are called upon to become a caregiver, it can throw us for a loop. Our routine is shattered and it can be very unsettling.

First things first….breathe.

Even when things are happening at whirlwind speed, decisions needing to be made, tasks accomplished, etc., it is important to take a step back and recognize that we can be in control of the situation, not the other way around.   Try to identify the top priorities and decide which items may not be the top priority and we can let go of or give to others.  For instance, in order to be at the hospital with a relative, can someone else pick up Jimmy from soccer practice, get dinner, run errands, etc. 

Here are some tips that may help.

  1. Put all appointments into your smart phone or use a regular calendar.  This will help you not lose sight of something important. 
  2. Get a notebook and use it to document visits with professionals, phone calls, dates and time of messages, etc.  Write your own notes for follow up. When we are caregivers over a longer period of time, it can be difficult to remember which medical appointments came first, second, etc. over time.  We might not easily remember who said what.  Some also use their smart phone for this.  Either is fine.
  3. Keep all business cards together.  If you are super organized, you can get plastic sleeves and put them in a notebook alphabetically.  You can scan them into your phone with free software designed for sales people.  You can just take a picture of them and save into a photo “album” on your phone.  You can spend moments while you are waiting endlessly and enter the information from a business card into the contacts in your phone or your computer laptop or tablet.  You can keep them together with a rubber band and keep them with your notebook.  Some caregivers keep everything together in an old tote bag or backpack.  Some hospital systems even provide a notebook and tote bag at the time of admission just for this purpose.
  4. Get a small telephone/address book or put the numbers of key contacts and family members into your phone contacts.  It can be very frustrating to try to find a number that you have misplaced.
  5. If you are in a family caregiving crisis, think about asking someone to be the family spokesperson to communicate with friends and family who are trying to be supportive.  Even though appreciated, it takes a lot of time to respond to the calls and emails we receive.  Ask someone else to field those calls, comments, responses, etc. at least in the short term.  You can set up a group email, a conference call to update all family members at once, use Facetime or a chat service via your smart phone. 
  6. If someone offers help, let them know what you need most.  Is it a meal, is it mowing the lawn, picking up items at the store, rides here and there, etc.  Do you need a gas card, money for parking, gift cards for meals, something like that?  If you would do that for a friend or family member in need, then let them do it for you.  When you let someone help you, you are actually giving others who care about you a gift.
  7. Ask for a social worker, a care manager and/or a patient navigator to help you identify needs, resources and solutions for caregiving.  They may be able to make referrals directly, provide information that you wouldn’t otherwise know about and LISTEN.  Sometimes we need that most…just someone to listen.  When in doubt, call 211.  That is the universal number for Information and referral across the United States.  911 for emergencies.  411 for directory assistance and 211 for information and referral.  Explain your need and see if the person on the other end of the call can help direct you to a resource.  If you are caring for an older person, get a copy of the Older Adults Resource Guide.  It is available at most hospitals and online or via phone from the Western Reserve Area on Aging at (216) 621-0303.  Here’s a link to order online http://www.psa10a.org/resources/publications/publications-order-form.aspx
  8. Depending on your need for the same type of information over and over, create a file that you can access via your laptop, tablet or smart phone.  You can save those documents to a flash drive if you don’t want to include them on your laptop or smart phone.  Most of our devices are either password or fingerprint protected anyway. Include copies of medical insurance cards, ID cards, list of medications (any pharmacy can print this out for you and you can scan it), copies of Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, Financial Power of Attorney, Guardianship, etc. etc.  If your family member is a patient at the Cleveland Clinic-Euclid Hospital, they will have access to their medical records via MyChart.  If they give you access, you can locate past labs, reports, visit dates, etc.
  9. Be sure to take care of yourself.  Remember to stay hydrated, not just with coffee and soft drinks from vending machines.  Eat real food, not what you can grab.  Even in the moment, you can take two minutes to close your eyes, breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.  Listen to some calming music in earbuds when you can.  Wear comfortable clothes, slippers, etc. if you are spending long periods of time bedside.  You might even want to put together a backpack that has toiletries, a change of clothes and underwear, a sweater or wrap, a book or magazine, snack foods that are high energy, something spiritual if that is comforting to you, etc. etc.  If that bag is in your car, it will be there when you need to grab it quickly. 
  10. 10.  Lastly, remember that Superman and Superwoman are fictional characters, we don’t have to live up to expectations that are not achievable.   Pace Yourself, Forgive Yourself, Love Yourself.

For more information about Caregiving and local resources for caregivers, please visit our Facebook page for Gateway Retirement Community.  Please “like” and “follow” us to keep up to date on ideas and resources to support you in the caregiving journey.   Gateway Retirement Community, located in Euclid, offers Independent Living for seniors age 55+, Assisted Living with AL Medicaid Waiver, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Care.  Look for our ad in the current issue. 

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 8:10 AM, 10.14.2018