Expert Caregiving Tips for Busy Parents
Have you heard of the “sandwich generation”? If you’re an adult with young children who also provides care for an aging parent, you have found yourself smack dab in the middle of two warm, doughy slices of caring, generationally speaking. Your situation isn’t as unique as you might think, though. In fact, in their study titled Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP reported an estimated 53 million adults in the U.S. currently serve as unpaid caregivers to a family member or friend– 41.8 million of those care for an adult over 50.
Whether your caregiving journey involves supporting your parents as they age in place, or having your parents live with you so you can help care for them, here are some practical and actionable tips to make the ride a little easier:
Seek Out Local Support Systems
The network of organizations dedicated to supporting older adults and their caregivers continues to grow. In Austin specifically, you can find helpful resources – from lending libraries for durable medical equipment to caregiver support groups, elder care assistance, and more – at organizations including:
- AGE of Central Texas
- Area Agency on Aging
- Meals on Wheels Central Texas
You can also check out caregiver get-togethers on Meetup.com or connect online with the local chapter of a non-profit directly related to your parent’s condition, i.e., Alzheimer’s Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Cancer Society, etc.
Prioritize Medication Management
Believe it or not, upwards of 50% of adults with chronic illnesses don’t take their medicine as prescribed, and
missed or mixed doses are a leading cause of emergency room visits. Managing medications is no walk in the park. Tongue-tying generic vs. brand names, multiple prescribing physicians, and different colors, shapes, dosages, and frequencies at which meds are taken can all lead to confusion that makes it challenging to stay on top of a strict schedule.
Caregivers can help support their loved one’s health and simplify the job of managing medications with a few quick tips:
- Write and display a detailed list of all of your parent’s current medications and include important information like:
- Name of medication (indicate brand or generic)
- Time meds are taken
- Prescribing physician
- Shape and color of pill
- What is the medicine for?
- Use resources provided by your loved one’s pharmacy to stay on top of refills, including auto-refill and schedule syncing services, as well as, free mobile apps that let you check prescription statuses and refill with a couple taps on your smartphone.
- Talk to your loved one’s doctor about simplifying medication management. Is it possible to safely alter frequencies so that medicine can be taken fewer times during the day? Can one doctor take over prescribing all maintenance medications?
- Use color-coded pill organizers to sort your parent’s pills by day of the week and time of day (you can find pill organizers at any pharmacy or big box store). Then set reminders on commonly used devices, i.e., on your parent’s watch, alarm clock, or smartphone.
Plan for Fall Prevention
It’s a scary number, but roughly one out of four older adults will experience a fall each year. Of those, 3 million will be treated for injuries ranging from hip fractures to sprains, lacerations, and more. Your aging parent does not have to be part of this statistic! A handful of easy modifications around your parent’s living environment can make all the difference.
- Move common trip hazards like throw rugs with turned up corners, plugs/cables/cords, pet toys, etc.
- Install grab bars in the bath or shower and put down non-slip mats
- Move clutter and large furniture that impede common pathways in the home
- Check lightbulbs in the home and replace dim or dead ones to improve visibility
- Talk to your parent and their doctor about a mobility aid if you are concerned about your parent’s balance or ability to safely get around
Join Online Caregiving Groups
The best advice caregivers can find is the kind that comes from people who have worn those shoes before and learned the many lessons that come with the job. While caregiving can feel isolating and lonely, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Private online caregiving groups give caregivers a safe and welcoming space to share their stories, ask questions, and support one another. Working Daughter, Caregiver Collective, and Caregivers Hub Support Group are just a few you can find on Facebook.
Make it a Family Affair
As more and more moms and dads of younger children take on the role of caregiver for an aging parent, the opportunity for powerful and educational intergenerational experiences grows. While your 5-year-old might not understand why Grandma is sick or why she needs help, there are valuable lessons in participating in helping Grandma feel better – in preparing her lunch together, playing games with her, or coloring her a picture.
Caregiving offers an intimate setting where children (young and old) can learn empathy, practice selflessness, show appreciation and encouragement, and experience the type of profound love that comes with caring for another person.
Find Time for Self-Care
Simultaneously caring for children and aging parents will leave you hard-pressed for “me time.” Caregiver burnout is real, however, and you may find yourself unable to provide the care your loved one needs if you run your engine dry. Carve out snippets of time to practice self-care, even if it is just a 15-minute walk alone, a mini yoga session streamed in your bedroom, or simply lighting a candle and listening to calming music.
And don’t hesitate to ask for help – set expectations with other family members, neighbors, and friends who offer to help and find tasks that support your needs without giving you the extra work of delegating. For example, ask a sibling who wants to help to be in charge of groceries and placing a grocery delivery for your parent to their home each week.
According to the Census Bureau, in just 10 years, every living member of the Baby Boomer generation will be over the age of 65. If your parents haven’t aged into this bracket yet, chances are they will soon, and with the golden years comes the high likelihood that you will be counted on for some form of caregiving or another. From fall prevention to medication management to connecting with eldercare assistance and support groups – the more tools you slip into your caregiver toolbelt now, the better equipped you will be as your parents get older.
Jess McLean is a freelance writer and family caregiving consultant based in Asheville, NC.