When caregiving becomes too much

When caregiving, there may come a time when you both need and appreciate some extra help to provide care for an aging parent, friend or spouse. With increased responsibilities — along with any straggling emotional baggage — it can be immensely difficult for a caregiver to go it alone. Outside help can be of tremendous value to a family caregiver: these are professionals who have previous related experience with any number of health conditions. They know what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Equally important, involving a healthcare professional in your loved one’s care will free up your own time to enjoy some much-needed respite.

The questions are not so much when to reach out for additional help (this will vary dramatically depending on the situation and one’s readiness to make that decision), but instead how do you find, hire and involve these workers with your loved one? This is a serious matter. You need to find someone who is experienced, qualified, responsible, trustworthy and conscientious. Let’s take a closer look at each of those questions.

To find professional healthcare staff, you have numerous options. First, check your city’s telephone directory under “Senior Care” to locate local businesses that can be of service to you. Considering our country’s rapidly aging population, such companies seem to be sprouting up everywhere — increasingly, this is a very good business to be in.

With more senior support services opening, it’s more important than ever to do your research. Has the staff undergone criminal checks? Are they bonded? Can they provide references? Do they have related experience with your loved one’s health condition? What does the business charge? Do they offer both full-time and part-time help?

Don’t be shy with asking questions. After all, you are representing your loved one’s best interests.

Other things to keep in mind:

— If you cannot find suitable local help, keep in mind that more distant care companies may charge additional mileage for their workers to visit.

— When it comes to hiring from an agency, take note that many places cannot guarantee the same worker each and every time. Having a different face show up may easily confuse an aging senior.

Another option for sourcing outside help is to advertise in your local newspaper’s classified section. When my family was searching for someone to help manage Dad’s care, we placed a “Help Wanted” ad. It wasn’t that costly and we ran it over the course of a weekend to ensure the best readership. Collect resumes and schedule personal interviews. You won’t be able to best judge an applicant’s character and personality when communicating by telephone or e-mail. As with a healthcare agency, screen a potential hire carefully and completely.

Third, ask around. Your personal network of family, friends and business colleagues can provide a wealth of information. Consider stepping outside your immediate social circle. For example, does your loved one’s doctor know of someone who might be able to help you? Perhaps you could post an ad on a bulletin board at your neighbourhood grocery store or in your church newsletter? If your loved one is in a care facility, mention your job opening to the facility staff. It is quite possible that these employees work a combination of part-time jobs and may wish to supplement their income. If nothing else, perhaps one of the facility staff may be able to recommend someone else.

When hiring a private caregiver, be sure to note any contractual obligations and make the necessary payroll deductions from your care worker’s paychecks. Agencies will handle these often-complex matters in-house.

Keeping care staff accountable

With whomever you decide to hire and wherever you find him or her, it’s important to keep your care staff accountable, for your loved one’s sake as well as your own peace of mind. One easy way to do this is to make unexpected, random visits to make sure everything is in order.

Of course, you can also ask your hired help to report back to you. My family implemented this strategy with my father’s helper. We left a small notebook and a couple of pens in Dad’s top dresser drawer at his residence. When our helper came to visit Dad, she could easily access these to note the hours she worked, make any comments on his condition or report any irregularities (maybe he was sleeping in the afternoon when he was normally awake or perhaps he didn’t eat all of his lunch). We also asked her to report the positives. It was gratifying to read that my father “was in good spirits and was very receptive today.” Every couple weeks, we slid a pay cheque into that same top dresser drawer so our care worker could easily find it.

Integrating professional help into your routine

Integrating professional help into your loved one’s life can be difficult. After all, your loved one will have probably lived an entire life enjoying independence. Expect resistance. Proceed slowly. Introduce a healthcare worker to your parent, friend or spouse and then gauge response on both sides.   

You are looking for warmth, compassion, interest and an ability to relate from your healthcare worker — and acceptance from your loved one. When it comes time to involve a worker, do so gradually. It takes time to become comfortable with the idea of receiving help. And who knows? Just maybe Mom will appreciate having her hair done — or Dad will value being taken for a daily walk? You can also employ a common public relations trick to put a positive “spin” on the situation. Your loved one, for example, may be far more open to accepting help a couple of times per week if he or she does not have to move as quickly from his or her own home.

Remember to also accommodate your care worker as much as possible. He or she will be spending a great deal of time with your loved one. Be sure to outline your expectations fully. For example, will your helper be responsible for light housekeeping or more specialized care? If her or she is coming into your loved one’s home, leave notes as to where to find the cleaning supplies, the can opener, the extra towels and so on. Provide your phone number(s) in case of emergency. And if your caregiver is taking your loved one outside of the home/care facility, then also supply a small cash float for any incurred expenses (you can ask for receipts in exchange).

As a final word, please don’t hesitate to ask for caregiving help when and where needed. When bringing in the right person (or the right people), both you and your loved one will benefit.

Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians available at national Chapter’s bookstores and on http://www.self-counsel.com/default/caregiver-s-guide-for-canadians.html. More info at www.caregiversguideforcanadians.com.