Whether you had time to plan for your new caregiving role or if you assume responsibility after a crisis, your new responsibilities involve more than just hands on care. Here are five things you need to address in your new role as a family caregiver.

Some families plan well ahead of time who will take on the various responsibilities associated with caring for an elderly parent. Others times people find the caregiving thrust upon them during a crisis, such as when a loved one becomes disabled after a fall or automobile accident. In either case, their focus tends to be on attending to the medical needs of their family member and ensuring meal preparation and housekeeping is done. While these tasks are important, other aspects of caregiving, such as the legal and financial matters, also need attention. Here are some important tasks new caregivers need to make a priority.

  • Organize time and space. New caregivers often become overwhelmed quickly with all the responsibilities associated with their role. A great deal of frustration can be avoided by setting up the space in your loved ones home. Some suggestions for organizing the space include:
    • Strategically place furniture so your loved one has something to stable to grab in case of a loss of balance. Make sure walkways and doorways are wide enough (36 to 42 inches) to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.
    • Set up a care center with medications, bandages, and other items you use frequently for caring for your loved one. This helps avoid the frustration of trying to gather what you need to care for your family member at the last minute.
    • Use a calendar or mobile app to remind you to refill prescriptions. Depending on the type of medication, it can take as long as a week to get a new prescription from the doctor and then have the pharmacy refill it.
    • Consider delegating some tasks to another family member or a personal care assistant, especially if you are trying to juggle your new caregiving responsibilities with your job or caring for your children. Consider using a group online calendar so everyone knows what he or she needs to do on a particular day.
  • Ensure all legal documents are in order. Since a time may come when your loved one might not be able to make decisions independently, you and your family member need to make sure you have the legal documents ready to prove you have the authority to make these decisions. This helps your family to avoid the time, expense, and emotional stress associated with a competency hearing.

Some examples of the documents you may need include:

  • A Durable Power of Attorney, which gives you, or a person designated by your loved one, the legal authority to make decisions in financial matters, real estate transactions, and other matters.
  • A Health Care Power of Attorney allows a person designated by your family member to make medical decisions for them. This authority tends to be more extensive than what is covered in Advanced Directives or a Living Will.

You can learn more about Elder Law by searching for the information you need on the Minnesota Legal Services website, contacting Volunteers of America legal services, or connecting with a local Minnesota home health agency.

  • Make arrangements with your employer. Since 59 percent of informal family caregivers have jobs and more than half of these people need to adjust their work schedules, most employers understand you may need to take time away from work periodically if they know about your situation. Depending on the policies of your workplace, you may be able to use your accrued paid sick leave to cover absences without losing income. Additionally, the Family Medical Leave Act  allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. If you find you are taking too much time away from work, consider delegating some responsibilities to another family member, a neighbor, or a personal care assistant.
  • Learn as much as possible about your loved one’s health condition and the medications he or she is taking. By investing some time in educating yourself about your family member’s illness or disability you’ll know what symptoms are considered “normal”, as well as the signs that your loved one needs medical attention. Additionally, by learning the side effects of the drugs your family member takes, you’ll know what to expect while they are taking the medication. This not only saves you the stress of undue worry, but this knowledge puts you in the position to advocate for your loved one effectively.

Some of the different resources and contacts for information include:

  • The doctors and other medical professionals providing treatment for your family member
  • The pharmacists filling your loved one’s prescriptions
  • Online resources provided by national disease specific organizations
  • Local family support groups
  • Reach out for support and respite. Caregiver burnout is common among first time family caregivers. One of the best ways to manage the emotional and physical stress associated with attending to the day to day needs of your loved one is to arrange for assistance and respite care. Many families find personal care assistant services offered by a Minnesota home health agency to be an essential part of the care plan for their elderly parents or disabled loved ones.

Some examples of the services offered include:

  • Transportation to medical appointments
  • Housekeeping and meal preparation’
  • Support with daily living skills

In many cases, these services are available without cost to the family or loved one. A PCA Self-Assessment can help you determine if you might qualify for state assistance.

By taking care of these five things, you’ll find your new tasks are much easier, so you’ll experience less stress in your new role as a family caregiver.