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Practical Caregiving

Relax! There Are Solutions to Help You

By Jean Donahue

Assisted living, nursing home, home healthcare, adult day care, respite care -- what do they all mean? Itís like a new language, but thereís no one to teach it to you. All you want to do is take care of your elderly loved one. Why is it so difficult?

Learning the maze of definitions and descriptions associated with becoming a family caregiver is one of the most frustrating things you will ever deal with -- but you can do it. Most people donít want to think that their loved one will ever need someone other than themselves to take care of them, so they put off reading about it until itís staring them in the face. We all have been there -- or will be there. Suddenly you need to do something, but you donít have any idea where to start. Letís start about talking about a family caregiver.

There are a couple scenarios for becoming a family caregiver. The first comes suddenly when your loved one has an accident or sudden, severe stroke or illness. This is the most common scenario. Suddenly, I had to find a flight from Des Moines, Iowa, to Mesa, Arizona, when Dad had a stroke. Mom had Alzheimerís and couldnít take care of even herself. I was so relieved to see how well the nurses took care of Mom in the hospital.

The second scenario comes in stages. You wonder if your loved one needs help. Then you realize they probably need help, but you arenít sure how much help they actually need, and you donít know how to approach the subject. Later, there is no question about it -- you have to do something. Now. Your loving parent or parents are becoming dangerous to themselves and/or someone else. Thatís when you officially become a family caregiver Ė the point at which you MUST step in.

I will cover the above terms, but first I want everyone to understand that all family caregivers encounter the same problems. Whatever you are encountering and possibly thinking this is very unique Ė someone else (probably many someones) has been there before you. The way they care for their loved one may be different, but the family caregiver is universally frustrated and upset about the need to take care of their loved one. They donít understand the system, they donít know what to do, they donít have enough time to take care of their loved one the way they want to, they canít do everything and sometimes feel like they canít do anything. And, importantly, they feel guilty about almost everything connected with taking care of their loved one.

How you take care of your loved one is your decision, and the important thing is to provide the best care for your loved one that you can. Donít do anything because someone else thinks you should do it that way. Learn what you need to know and then make your own decisions. Choose the way you care for your loved one that is the best way for both of you. You donít need to take care of your loved one yourself, but you can.

Now, letís fast-forward to assisted living, nursing homes, home healthcare, adult day care and respite care.

Assisted living facilities exist to ďassistĒ a person in leading as much of a normal life as possible when they can basically can still care for themselves and their living environment, but they do not need 24-hour nursing or medical care. Security, independence and privacy are provided, making it possible to easily socialize with other elderly people. Meal preparation and driving to the store have become difficult for them, and the assisted living facility usually provides meals and even transportation, if wanted.

Contrast this situation with a nursing home, which provides 24-hour skilled nursing care and anything else needed, including bathing, feeding and dressing. Many nursing homes also provide rehabilitation services after a hospital stay.

Home healthcare is a valuable service provided to people still in a home setting. Services range from nursing services, bathing, feeding, house cleaning and anything else needed on a day-to-day basis. Aides are hired for an hour or two, or up to 24 hours a day.

Adult day care is available to seniors who can get out and socialize and who are still living in a home setting. Most often, these folks have a little trouble getting around and caring for their needs. Quite often, they live with an adult child because it is unsafe for them to live alone. Friends are developed and activities are provided throughout the day in the adult day care setting. Usually a person who goes to adult day care enjoys both friends and activities -- after the normal adjustment period.

Respite care can be very necessary and valuable to caregivers. It gives the family caregiver time to take a break for a few hours or several days. This service provides all that is needed for the loved one while the primary caregiver is away. After a break, the family caregiver returns to caregiving refreshed, and they are able to take better care of their loved one. Iíll never forget how relaxed I felt after a day alone Ė my ďrespiteĒ -- driving the gravel roads in Madison County, Iowa, to take pictures of the celebrated covered bridges.

My advice to you is this:

Relax. Learn to enjoy your loved one even in this trying time. You and your loved one will become much closer, and both of you will appreciate that closeness the rest of your lives. Remember these descriptions of formal assistance, and when needed, donít be afraid to take decisions that are best for you and your elderly loved one.