Back to main page

Back to Practical Caregiving Columns


Practical Caregiving

Knowing What You Need Is the First Step In Getting What You Need

By Jean Donahue

Becoming a family caregiver brings with it a unique set of circumstances that must be solved, and each caregiving situation is different. Add to this, the fact that too often you simply can't find a way to make things better. You feel helpless and alone, and you tend to get more irritated with your loved one.

You know this is wrong, but how do you find your way out of this crazy maze you're in when every time you think you are finally able to take a breath, something new comes up and again you are running as fast as you can?

Quite often the actual problem in dealing effectively with all this is just below the surface, and often the problem and resolution are different than you think. The key is to discover the needs all around by mentally digging below the surface. Your loved one has needs, and you, as a family caregiver, also have needs. Once you gain a better understanding of where you need help, you can set about to get that help and gain some of the relief you so desperately need.

Let's take, as an example, a situation where you might be caring for your husband who has trouble walking. He is much larger than you, and you aren't strong enough to really keep him from falling. He needs help to get around the house and to exercise but what kind of help? You can afford to buy devices that would help, but you don't have people coming in to physically help. Your neighbor has offered to help your husband to get outside, but you haven't asked him. Your husband might need something to help him walk. Should that be a cane or walker? After outlining the pros and cons, the needs and resources needed, you decide to call on your neighbor for his help and ask the doctor which device will give your husband a little extra support.

This sounds simple and obvious, but in the caregiving role, where stress, frustration and weariness grow, sometimes the obvious is not clear. Seeing things in writing often makes them much clearer and can lead to a path that makes your life better and less frustrating. That's why I'm including a straightforward Needs and Resources form with this column you can use to help you through the assessment process. This is not a scientific form it is intended to address the practical needs from your own perspective.

To find out what kind of help, fill out the Practical Caregiving Needs and Resources Worksheet twice once for you as caregiver and once for your loved one. This, quite simply, is a roadmap we've developed to help you evaluate your situation. There still will be times when you have to immediately stop what you are doing to take care of your loved one, but the goal should be to make this the exception rather than the norm. And the way to do this is by identifying your needs and and those of your loved one, and then prioritizing them.

Here's how the form works:

  List all the needs in each area (physical, emotional, spiritual, social). You can add to this list as you go.

  List the money you have available to meet those needs.

  List the people you have available to meet those needs.

  List other resources available that you are not using

  Compare the list of needs in the first column with the resources available in the next three columns. In the last column, list the areas you still need help.

After identifying where you need help, you will be able to search for a way to fill those areas.

Other places you might find helpful: Area Agency on Aging, aging resources, hospital or nursing homes, home social workers, legal services, and various other local services and agencies.

Simply phone them, explain your situation, and ask whether they can help or know of other places where you can get the help you need. Remember these resources exist to help and want to help.

Good luck, and let me know how it works out for you. Click here now to access the Practical Caregiving Needs and Resources Worksheet.