Advice On Family Caregiving

Every day, all across the country, people juggle the demands of their busy lives.  Jobs, children, and dozens of other activities all compete for time.  And then mom or dad gets sick...

Shared Wisdom

At Home Instead Senior Care Toronto, we know that caring for a senior isn’t always easy.

Every day, all across the country, people juggle the demands of their busy lives.  Jobs, children, and dozens of other activities all compete for time.  And then mom or dad gets sick or otherwise needs in-home help.

These seniors’ adult children – the ones who often end up as their caregivers – are referred to as the “sandwich generation,” caught between providing for their own young families and assisting their aging parents.  They’re already stretched to the limit, with one quarter of all U.S. adults currently caring for an aging parent, relative or spouse.  What’s more, a recent national survey done by Home Instead Senior Care indicated that 72 percent of these family caregivers have no help.

And this strain shows no sign of easing.  That’s largely because of numbers; by the year 2030, 70 million Americans – 20 percent of the population – will be over the age of 65.

The person responsible for providing informal care for family members is called – logically enough – the “family caregiver.”  In the majority of cases, this person is either the family’s eldest daughter, or the grown child who lives the closest to the parent or relative needing care.  Spouses also play an important role here; in fact, they comprise almost half of all family caregivers in the U.S.

Today, I’d like to talk with you about some of the issues involved in family caregiving and share some related wisdom from Home Instead Senior Care – all of which can help make the job of serving as a family caregiver a bit easier and less stressful.

First, here are some practical suggestions for helping a senior remain safe at home:

  • Keep the environment simple and uncluttered.
  • Look for – and eliminate – dangerous objects and situations (burning matches, cigarettes, or candles; tripping hazards such as electrical cords and throw rugs; and sharp or breakable objects).
  • Keep these and other similar substances out of reach or locked up: cleaning or art supplies; medications; poisonous houseplants; or anything else that may be harmful if swallowed.
  • Use nightlights in halls, bedrooms and bathrooms, and use guardrails on beds.
  • Install grab bars and non-skid tape in bathroom tubs and showers.

And, on a related subject, those serving as family caregivers often find that the issue of communicating with an elderly loved one poses a challenge – one that requires patience and understanding.  In many cases, they’ll even find that prior adult-child roles are reversed, with the younger family member assuming more “parental” roles – a circumstance that can create problems.  And, of course, working with a senior who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can further complicate the situation.

A family caregiver for an older parent or relative should always remember one simple rule when communicating with seniors: speak respectfully.   This is because while seniors may not understand exactly what is being said to them, they will recognize if a person is speaking in a condescending or disparaging tone.

And when communicating with a senior having Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias – which can be a challenging prospect – a caregiver should use familiar terms and concrete words.  Declarative sentences should be short and simple, while questions should require the senior to give a “yes-no” response or choose from a selection of simple answers.

But what’s to be done when verbal communication with a senior produces no response, or an unwelcome one?  Well, it’s a good practice for the caregiver to redirect the senior or the situation; this can be done by taking a walk or offering a snack, or by using an alternative means of “communication” such as listening to favorite music or watching a familiar TV program.  And if a senior has a verbal outburst of any type, this is best ignored, since it will help keep the caregiver from becoming angry unnecessarily.
And with that, let’s give some much-deserved consideration to the needs of those individuals providing care to seniors.  Full-time caregivers, or those who are heavily involved in the caregiving process, must guard against the effects of burn-out and stress.  In fact, according to a recent Home Instead Senior Care survey, 31% of family caregivers would like more help and 25% resent other family members who don’t help out more.

In addition, the basic stresses of family caregiving can be exacerbated when a caregiver has other responsibilities such as a job; children; a busy social life; some distance to travel to provide care for an aging parent or relative; and so on.  Moreover, caregiving can be particularly hard for a spouse, especially when the care recipient requires around-the-clock assistance.

So, it’s not surprising to find that most family caregivers struggle to balance the task of caring for an aging parent or relative with other major life responsibilities.  This often means that these caregivers have little time left to care for themselves – which can result in their experiencing high stress levels and resultant health problems.  In fact, according to this same survey, 55 percent of family caregivers appear to have average or significant levels of stress.

The problem, of course, is that when caregivers neglect self care, they end up incapable of taking care of the senior loved ones who need their help in the first place.  Recently, Home Instead Senior Care and Caring Today Magazine held an essay contest – one that, not surprisingly, had the theme of caregiving.  One prize-winning entry put it very succinctly: “A worn-out caregiver is good to no one.”

So here are some excellent tips for caregivers to avoid or manage stress.  These were compiled by Home Instead Senior Care’s Advisory Board of senior care experts, which includes company CEO and Co-Founder Paul Hogan:

  • Work out for 20 minutes at least three times per week, and consider learning a stress-management exercise such as yoga or tai-chi.
  • Eat well – plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains.
  • Meditate.  Sit still and breathe deeply with the mind as “quiet” as possible.
  • Attend to personal medical needs.  Get annual check-ups and other treatment as necessary.  Being a caregiver provides numerous excuses for skipping doctor’s visits, but this absolutely should not happen.
  • Get help from family members, friends, volunteers, or professional non-medical caregivers.
  • Find a local caregiver support group to help understand the experiences and feelings associated with family caregiving.

To learn more even about caregiver stress – including signs and symptoms, and other ways of dealing with this problem – just log on to our Web site.  Visitors to this site can even take a very enlightening 20-question online test to determine their personal levels of caregiving-related stress.

In conclusion, I can tell you we at Home Instead Senior Care Toronto know what a challenge family caregiving can be.  I also can tell you that it’s one of the most rewarding tasks a person can ever perform in life.

I hope you’ve found this information to be useful and informative, and please remember that I’m happy to serve at any time as a resource for you on caregiving or senior- or aging-related issues.

So if you ever want to know more about caregiving; if you’d like to learn more about our services; or if you’re interested in employment as a Home Instead CAREGiver, please contact me at my office – a local, independently owned and operated Home Instead Senior Care franchise.

Thank you for your time.

Bruce Mahony
Owner – Home Instead Senior Care Toronto



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