Caregiving — Part 5 of 5

You can’t do everything and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Creating a Care Team is the best way to manage caregiving responsibilities. Some of the members of your team will be caregiving professionals; others will be friends and family members. If you’re organizing the team, think of yourself as the Team Leader.

Your Doctor: responsible for health care records, doctors investigate symptoms and refer to specialists such as a cardiologist or neurologist. Your family doctor can give you access to community services such as dietitians, occupational or physical therapists.

Geriatrician: In short supply, geriatricians have the expertise to monitor your medication, lifestyle and nutritional issues, along with memory, and recommend antipsychotic medications.  There are restrictions in the number of annual visits that will be funded, but these visits are still helpful when complex care is needed.

Pharmacist: A vital part of “monitoring system” pharmacists watch for drug interactions, side effects, and potential allergies related to your medications. Ask them to prepare medications in a blister pack to prevent medication-related errors and to act as a daily reminder for older people.
Geriatric care manager: Often a nurse, this resource can monitor your loved-one’s health and report symptoms to you before they reach crisis proportions. Available to take your parent to medical appointments, co-ordinate visits to specialists, and help implement suggested treatments, a geriatric care manager can also help you with caregiving-related problems.

Home care team: Nursing, personal support, homemaking, cleaning and companionship services are available 24/7. Some services are covered by your provincial health plan. Others will need to be paid privately.  Use a reputable home health care provider and check references.

Equipment provider: Wheelchairs, walkers, stair-lifts and other assistive devices are available for use in the home. Get an equipment prescription (for tax purposes) along with the referral to a reliable retailer.

Friends and family members: Who among your friends and family members can help you:

  • to provide home health care including things like giving medications, performing basic medical procedures, communicating with health care providers, organizing home care services
  • to provide personal care like toileting, grooming and eating
  • with housekeeping and daily activities like cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, meal preparation
  • home maintenance
  • money management
  • to give emotional support by visiting, making regular phone calls, or even reading reading to your lovey
  • with transportation and escort to appointments, errands, social outings, religious services, or the hospital in an emergency

When you are sharing the care of a loved one with others, use a Daily Journal to:

  • document significant events at your loved one’s life;
  • monitor her condition;
  • organize his activities;
  • help caregivers communicate with each other;
  • give quick access to important information.

Assembling a caring team means you can ensure your parent receives the best care while reducing the impact on you. But remember, you aren’t obliged to accept help from everyone who offers, even if the volunteer is a close relative. You may decline any volunteer for any reason, especially if your loved one is uncomfortable with that person.

If you’re between the ages of 45 and 65, the chances of your needing care or being a caregiver over the next decade are pretty high. Unfortunately, there is no national home- or community-care program in Canada. And despite the fact that “boomers” have been powerful advocates on many fronts, when it comes to long-term health care, their voices have been weak and their resolve wavering.

While caregivers save public coffers $5 billion annually, support programs for individual caregivers are minimal and financial aid virtually non-existent. But it’s not just about money. Caregivers, more than anything else, need recognition for their role. They also need to be recognized by service providers. I wonder how long it will be before caregiving follow the model implemented in palliative care where the whole system looks at the patient and family as unit of care. And just how many people must take on the role of caregiver before employers, co-workers, and communities at large have to develop an understanding of what it means to be a caregiver?

Caregiver has to be much more of a community affair. No one can do it alone, although many people are asked to. But there are systemic and geographic barriers to a whole family getting involved. One potential solution might be to adjust the compassionate leave program to look more like the parental leave program: create only one two-week wait period, and let more than one person can use the same “benefits” so friends and family can take turn providing respite to a primary caregiver.

Whatever happens on the caregiving front, it will be the result of active lobbying from the front lines. Clearly nothing is going to make as big a difference as an insistent voter population. Pressure to create a national caregiving network with a baseline of service across provinces and regions must come from caregivers themselves. Anyone of us can become a caregiver at any moment, and we often don’t have a chance to prepare for it. There but for the grace of God go I.

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