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Practical Caregiving

Getting Organized

By Jean Donahue

Being a family caregiver is so very frustrating and exhausting. There just isn't enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Even when you do have an extra hour or two, you're so exhausted that you can't do one more thing. Your life is in a constant state of change; nothing stays the same. You are trying to take care of your loved one so very well, but you are overwhelmed and can't get everything done.

I know. I've been there.

Whether your loved one is at home or in a facility, you must make sure your loved one is well cared for -- and that you don't hurt your own health in the process. There are ways to help you get organized, but first you will need to accept the fact that things will constantly change. That's part of taking care of someone. Their health and situation constantly changes. They can't help that and neither can you. What you need to do is find ways to work around the continual change to get better organized.

Before we talk about getting organized, let's look at another issue we all have to face -- the fact that there are things that are important to do, and there are things that you just want to do. Your loved one's cleanliness is important. Of course, there are times when your loved one is running a fever or in pain, and you may want to loosen up on this, but not to the point that it is dangerous to your loved one's health. Dusting every day is not important. You can still have a clean house if you dust less often.

In other words, your approach and attitude makes all the difference in the world. When I started taking care of Mom and Dad, there were things I dreaded -- such as bathing Mom. I didn't want to take care of my parents. I wanted them to continue living a normal life until they suddenly died. That didn't happen, and I had to face that fact. That's when bathing Mom became less of a problem for me. She needed to be clean, and she couldn't do it herself. Her cleanliness was more important than my denying that my help was needed. I quit trying to live in the past -- the past where Mom could take care of herself.

As you start taking care of your loved one you will realize how much there is to do, and you will probably question whether you can do it at all. You are the one in control of your loved one's care. That's an awesome responsibility. There is a lot you need to do and a lot you need to learn. On top of that, there is the constant change that makes it impossible to get organized. What can you do to make the constant change more bearable?

First, talk to your loved one's doctor. Ask what their needs are now and what they will become in the future. Write everything down.

Next, think about the complete situation at the present time. Record everything you do, your loved one does, and anything other people do for you and/or your loved one. Write down what needs done that is not getting done. Include the information you gathered from the doctor.

I have listed several things that typically need to be managed. Each family caregiver is in a unique situation with unique tasks, so add and subtract to this list as your situation dictates. Also, as your caregiving changes, change the list to meet the needs of you and your loved one.

  1. Medications given at the correct time
  2. Personal cleanliness of your loved one.
  3. Dressing
  4. Moving about the house or transferring from bed to chair, wheel chair or commode
  5. Preparing meals
  6. Eating
  7. Laundry
  8. Housekeeping
  9. Travel to medical appointments
  10. Shopping for groceries, medicines and other necessities
  11. Finances, such as paying bills and reconciling checking account statements
  12. Home maintenance
  13. Car maintenance
  14. Yard work

Now, arrange the list into daily tasks, weekly tasks and monthly tasks. The daily tasks can be listed by time while the weekly and monthly tasks should be listed by day. Put a star beside the important things (such as eating). Write your loved one's name beside the tasks he/she can perform.

The next step is where your ingenuity comes in. What friends, family and hired help do you know that can help you with tasks that your loved one cannot do? Think of everyone who might possibly be able to help. Contact your church, local hospital or any other place you can think of that might know of someone who can help you. There actually are people who enjoy helping others in the family caregiving role. Use these people when you can. Be sure to write down their names and contact information and keep it where you can find it easily.

Now, write your name beside the tasks that you perform. Then evaluate your caregiving situation. Are you trying to do too much? Does this list leave time for you to take breaks? You do need to take breaks, whether for an hour or a week. You will do a much better job of taking care of your loved one if you take breaks -- and your health will be much better.

After creating a list you think will work, start using it. You will probably find that some things don't work the way you thought, so you need to change things. Do this until you come up with a plan that works at the present time. Remember, as your loved one's needs change, you again need to change the routine.

A list like this will help you do a better job of taking care of your loved one, and it will improve your own life. Stay with it!