When the Caregiver Flies the Coop

May 16, 2017

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Note: This is a continuation of last month’s discussion about the importance of caregivers taking time away from their responsibilities. See Part 1 here.

Anyone who has cared for another person for any length of time soon realizes the need for a break. This applies whether she is caring for an infant or an elder. We must care for the caregiver or she will not be able to care for the person in her charge. As Irma Kurtz says, “Givers have to set limits because takers rarely do.”

Most caregivers would agree that they need a break now and then to be refreshed and regain their perspective. But the realization is quickly followed by all of the objections:

  • "No one else can do it as well as I can."
  • "I can’t afford to hire someone."
  • "I don’t know who to ask."
  • "I don’t like to ask for help."

My husband and I have cared for his mother since 2012. Except for one overnight when our youngest son was married, we had not been away from home together since Mom moved in with us. Because she has Alzheimer’s, we knew it would confuse her to stay in another place while we were gone. So we only traveled separately, hardly the Golden Years of Retirement that we had envisioned.

When I was invited to speak at a home education conference in St. Petersburg, Russia earlier this year, my husband felt that he should go with me due to security concerns (which, thankfully, proved unfounded). So we had to get serious about finding in-home care for his mother for the thirteen days we would be gone.

It turned out that there were helpers just waiting to be asked. The certified nursing assistant (CNA) who showers Mom twice weekly was glad to take several shifts whenever she wasn’t working with other clients. Two homeschool moms in my piano studio have nursing backgrounds and were willing to fill in the rest of the shifts. Mom knew all three of these ladies, so we were confident that she would not be uneasy about having them care for her. Money from the sale of Mom’s house paid their wages.

In preparation for their arrival, I assembled some documents for the caregivers to make it as easy for them as possible. I sent these to the women three weeks before we left so they would have time to review them and ask questions. These are what I included:

Patient Profile: This was printed on a separate page that could be handed to a paramedic in the event of an emergency. It included Mom’s name, doctor and pharmacy names and phone numbers, insurance information, allergies, medications, etc.1 In her case I noted that she is a non-verbal, late-stage Alzheimer’s patient and would not be able to answer their questions.

In Case of Emergency: This document listed our landline phone number and our address (something a caregiver may not remember in the stress of an emergency). I included directions to get to our house since we live in a rural area and GPS directions lead ambulance drivers to a cornfield, not to our home. It also included phone numbers for several relatives and for each of the caregivers in case they needed to make scheduling changes. One of the caregivers was glad to be able to call my husband’s brother at 3:00 one morning when Mom fell in her bedroom. She did not require an ambulance and he was able to assist in getting her back into bed.

Caregiver Schedule: I also made a schedule with a column for each day and a row for each hour. I color-coded which caregiver was scheduled to serve during each time block each day, leaving room at the bottom for them to write in their total hours. This made adding up the hours for payment much easier when we arrived home.2 I sent a copy to each of the women and left one on the table for their use in case they had to adjust their schedules.

Instructions for Caregivers: In this multi-page document I listed a description of Mom’s typical day, food preferences, nighttime rituals, and other hints to make both the caregivers and Mom feel more comfortable. I suggested activities they might enjoy together, and included the Wi-Fi password in case the caregiver wanted to use the internet while Mom slept.

Because the ladies would be living in our home while caring for Mom, there were a number of non-medical issues to deal with: feeding the pets, handling the mail, doing the laundry, operating the television, etc. I also included where to find extra bedding, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, and the thermostat to adjust the heat. I also told them how to shut off the gas outside, where the electric panel is, and how to turn off the water, just in case.

It takes some preparation to leave your loved one while you get some respite time, but you will find it is well worth the effort. And there is a bonus: you will already have these documents ready for your next trip. Whether you are leaving for an overnight, a weekend, or an extended trip to help your daughter with her new baby, the break will do you and your loved one good. Allow others the blessing of serving in your place so you can serve well when you return.

© 2017 by Marcia K. Washburn who writes from her home in Colorado. Through the years, Marcia has cared for four adult relatives in her home, and presently cares for her mother-in-law who has Alzheimer Disease. Marcia is the Assistant Director of Christian Family Eldercare. Her book, Home-Based Eldercare: Stories and Strategies for Caregivers, is available at ChristianFamilyEldercare.org.

1. See Home-Based Eldercare: Stories & Strategies for Caregivers by Marcia K. Washburn for further details.

2. To see a sample schedule, write marcia@marciawashburn.com.

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May 16, 2017 by Marcia Washburn

  • Visiting & Serving Seniors
  • Caring for Parents and Relatives
  • Home-based Elder Care in a Family Economy
  • Church and Diaconate Eldercare