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A plea to caregivers: don't go it alone

As a caregiver helping or supporting someone you love, do you go it alone, request assistance from others, or wait (hopefully) for outside offers of help? Caregivers, typically, choose the independent path for various reasons: a sense of obligation o

As a caregiver helping or supporting someone you love, do you go it alone, request assistance from others, or wait (hopefully) for outside offers of help? Caregivers, typically, choose the independent path for various reasons: a sense of obligation or responsibility for their loved one; a resistance to hand over their parent to another person to provide necessary care; an embarrassment to ask for help; or a preference to keep this type of personal matter quiet. Furthermore, family caregivers can also believe that working independently is the only answer as there are limited resources available to help them.

The reality is, however, that there are many caregiving resources which do exist! I became familiar with numerous individuals, businesses, and senior’s organizations during my own time as a co-caregiver for my own aging parents. These included both general support (senior’s driving services) to more specific (a hospital day program for dad when his Alzheimer’s disease became too much for mom to handle). But, admittedly, accessing these resources wasn’t always easy. One reason could well have been my lack of professional health care, legal, and/or banking experience. I did not always know where to start looking. Nor did I know what questions to ask.

When I was faced with another looming caregiving obstacle, I was required to do the initial homework. There may be a required meeting for further discussion and/or many pages of complex paperwork to complete (perhaps requiring scans of guardianship or trusteeship orders, my parents' health care cards, collected medication lists, dates of previous surgeries, or other personal information that needed to be collected). Reaching someone to talk to directly doesn’t always happen the first time you call or e-mail and you may end up leaving voicemail messages, waiting for someone to reply, or sometimes following up repeatedly to get the information you need.

So, locating who you want or need to talk to and then actually reaching that person can take time and effort – two things which caregivers don’t always have in an abundance. Caregivers are already busy enough with their day-to-day caregiving responsibilities, careers, and own families. Consider that when you find caregiving resources of interest, many of these will be only open during regular office hours when you would be at work yourself, when you may be hesitant to make personal phone calls on company time and within earshot of others. Family caregivers may need to find balance, but this can be tricky. Without that balance, caregivers can experience greatly increased stress which can become dangerous for both themselves and their loved ones. Instead of bulldozing ahead, stressed caregivers need to slow down and find some outside help. Having one too many things to manage can become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Stressed or overworked caregivers can become sick themselves and become no good for anybody.

Instead of stumbling through everything themselves, caregivers can do themselves a favour by reaching out to others for help. In the case of finding local, provincial, and national resources, caregivers need to be both diligent and persistent. Dig and dig more. Start with the family doctor who can provide some answers for you. Explore local senior’s associations to learn more about them. Research caregiving resources on the Internet. Ask other caregivers you know for referrals. Call or e-mail to ask about resources of interest. If your inquiry goes unanswered after several days, follow-up. If you reach someone who replies in medical or legal jargon that you don’t understand, ask for clarification.

My message here is this – please don’t try to serve as a caregiver on your own. The job can easily become far too much for just one person to handle. Research and reach out to resources who can help you. Such resources are plentiful; however, you may have to be thorough with your research and persistent. When your call is answered, don’t be simply dismissed by someone who may not see you or your situation as a priority. Be pleasantly persistent. You – and your loved one – deserve answers.

Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (Self-Counsel Press). www.ricklauber.com