Family caregivers of older adults inevitably make mistakes. Although many excellent caregiving resources exist, most caregivers don’t research them before becoming immersed in providing care. Who has the time? Most caregivers are juggling multiple competing priorities, including children, jobs, finances and even their own health concerns.
Avoiding or even minimizing caregiving mistakes save families money, time and perhaps most importantly energy. Here are three of the biggest caregiving mistakes and how to avoid them (or fix them if you have already made them):
Expecting Medicare or Medicaid to pay for everything. Most families are stunned to find out how much Medicare does not cover. Many older adults are never even entitled to Medicaid benefits. Because Medicare and Medicaid don’t pay for most needs, assessing the older adult’s budget is an important first caregiving step. What money is coming in each month? What money is going out? What assets, if any, exist? Adult children caregivers are frequently surprised when the true financial picture is revealed. Many adult children find that their parents have much more---or less — than the older parents have alluded to previously.
Understanding the financial circumstances allows caregivers to help make informed purchasing decisions on behalf of the older adult. But it is equally important for the caregiver to know if financial resources are insufficient. When money is particularly limited, the older adult might qualify for certain benefits and services from both government and non-profit agencies. Further, some families may lovingly decide to pool their own funds to maintain or improve the older loved one’s lifestyle.
Relying on the doctor for everything. Good physicians are invaluable but they can’t provide all the help you need. Effective caregivers utilize a team of varied professionals from healthcare, legal and social service organizations.
Use your doctor strategically. While most caring physicians are happy to answer almost any question you may have, it’s wiser to spend your limited time at the doctor’s appointment discussing things he or she is uniquely qualified to answer. For example, talking to the doctor about symptoms, medication and whether or not the older person can still drive are good uses of the doctor’s time. Complaining to the doctor about how your sister is not visiting Mom enough is probably not.
For example, instead of venting to your doctor about how irritated you are with your sister for not helping out with Mom, talk to someone who has more time and expertise to help you work out that particular problem. A geriatric care manager, psychotherapist or case manager from your local Area Agency on Aging may be able to point you in the right direction. And speaking of that sister not helping enough…
Keep your expectations in check.
There will be people in the family who don’t offer as much help as you had hoped. Sometimes you anticipate this because that sister who isn’t helping enough has always been indifferent about Mom. But it hurts even more if that sister had previously been someone you could count on. People respond differently to the decline of older loved ones; many don’t have the emotional resolve to participate fully.
On the other hand, some family, friends and neighbors will offer help and caregivers decline it because of perfectionist tendencies. The caregiver assumes that nobody can provide care as well as he or she can. Unless it is a life or death scenario, loosen expectations when others are contributing their time or energy. If you have fallen into this perfectionist trap, try delegating the duties you are less particular about. For example, you may ask your well-meaning neighbor to pick up groceries rather than wash Mom’s hair.
Caring for an older loved one is a road wrought with endless potential missteps. Join a caregiver support group, contact your local Area Agency on Aging or Alzheimer’s Association and learn as much as possible about your older loved one’s conditions. The more you arm yourself with resources, the more likely you are to avoid costly caregiving mistakes.
Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C is the founder of Jenerations Health Education & the Upper Shore Education Consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association.