Caregiving is a rewarding yet challenging role. There are many things to consider before, during, and after the decision to care for an elderly relative or loved one. Sometimes the first step is the hardest. You may have recently realised that an elderly loved one has slowly declined in their abilities to the point where they need more help with their daily routine. Alternatively, a loved one may have suddenly experienced a change in their health, and as such, their abilities. Whatever the scenario, it can be difficult to know where to begin in starting a caregiving role.
While everyone’s care needs and situations are different, the following are some of the first steps that you can take to ease the transition into your caregiving role. Being proactive and taking time to consider the people, services and information available will help you to put a plan in place so that you can provide the best care possible for your loved one. Remember that caregiving can put a strain on your time, finances, mood, and energy, so the more support you can get, and earlier you can get it, the better.
Caregiving Step 1: Get a Diagnosis
If you notice that a loved one is declining, but you haven’t formally identified their condition, it’s important to seek medical help. You may have noticed that your loved one has become extremely forgetful, has had a complete personality change, or is having difficulty with mobility. A thorough evaluation from a medical professional will identify whether your loved one may have depression, nutritional deficiencies, reactions to medication, infection, or a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Early diagnosis has a number of benefits. First off, treatment for certain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease can be more effective in earlier stages. In addition, if you know your loved one’s diagnosis, you can learn about the condition and how it is likely to progress, which makes it easier to plan ahead and get the most appropriate care in place for your loved one.
Caregiving Step 2: Talk with Your Loved One
For caregivers, it’s extremely important to communicate with your loved one about a number of things such as their wishes for their finances and health care. They may want to consider the option of appointing an enduring power of attorney. You can help them to set up a meeting with a lawyer that specialises in elderly law to discuss their options and if they choose to, draw up relative documents. For some, having a plan in place can make them feel more relaxed as they know they are prepared for the future. If your loved one doesn’t have the capacity to make these decisions or create these documents, you may need to seek further legal advice to find out more about your options.
Caregiving Step 3: Talk with Other Family and Friends
At this early stage, it can be beneficial to discuss your loved one’s care with other members of the family and close friends to come together and discuss your loved one’s care. If your loved one is able, they may wish to be included in the discussion too. Having a planned discussion in this way gives you the chance to list tasks that should be carried out so that they can be divided up between everyone that is willing to help. It also allows all parties to discuss how much and what kind of help they can offer, as well as any concerns that they may have.
Caregiving Step 4: Look for Community Assistance
There are a number of community organisations that are set up to take some of the strain out of caregiving, such as Meals on Wheels and day centres for the elderly. Do some research into what is available in your area and the kind of assistance that would be most useful. These resources are in place so that you don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself, and to give you a bit of a break, which can make the time that you spend caregiving easier for both you and your loved one.
Caregiving Step 5: Find Support Organisations
While your time and energy may be taken up with planning care for your loved one, it’s important to make sure that you are looking after yourself. It is common for caregivers to feel isolated as they take on more responsibility in looking after a loved one, and their own social lives are put on hold. A support group can be a great way to meet other people in similar circumstances who understand what you’re going through and can offer considered advice.
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