How to care for seniors at home for as long as possible

People often say, “I promised her I’d never put her in a nursing home.” or, “Dad told me he never wanted to live in one of those places.” For a variety of reasons, caregivers may choose to care for their older adults at home. And as long as the situation is safe for everyone involved, keeping aging parents at home is a beautiful thing to do. But it’s important to remember that senior care is one of the most challenging and most stressful jobs you’ll ever have. That’s why caregivers are at such high risk for burnout and severe health conditions. So if you’re caring for your older adult at home, it’s essential to pace yourself. That means you can’t be running at 110% every day. We’re human, and that’s not sustainable over the long run. Pacing yourself and getting assistance helps you stay as healthy as possible to continue providing excellent care. To help you keep going over the long term, we share four tips for keeping aging parents at home for as long as possible by reducing the caregiving workload and decreasing stress.

Understand how much care is needed

In caregiving, many of us fall into a state where we “can’t see the forest for the trees.”  When you’re overwhelmed with a long list of caregiving To-Dos, you’re so focused on the tasks that you do not see the overall picture. The first step is to find out how much care your older adult needs.  Creating a list of daily, weekly, and monthly care tasks helps you understand how much help your loved one needs during the day, at night, and on weekends. You’ll realize how much supervision is needed and at which times of the day. An easy way to make a comprehensive list is to set a notepad out and make quick notes every time you or someone else helps your older adult with something. After a week, you’ll have a good overview of what your senior needs help with and at what times of the day. Keep the notetaking going longer to see if there’s anything that happens once or twice a month that you don’t want to forget.

Be realistic about how much care you can provide without harming your health

Now that you know your older adult’s care needs, you can figure out if that’s something you can handle without help.  Or maybe looking over the list helps you realize that you need help with a variety of tasks. In your evaluation, think carefully about how much care you can realistically provide without harming your health.  Keep in mind that if you take on too much, you will eventually burn out or develop a serious health condition – ultimately leaving you unable to care for anyone. Instead, be as proactive as you can and find ways to get the help you need to keep up your health and keep going as a caregiver.

Get help with caregiving

Even though it might seem like finding caregiving help takes too much time and effort, remember that it’s an investment that will pay off in the future.  Finding help takes patience, effort, and creative thinking, but it will be worth it when you’re able to decrease your workload, reduce stress, and take regular breaks. To help you spot more opportunities for getting help, keep an open mind and be flexible. And be sure to use the list of needs you wrote down to remind you of the types of help you need.

Ideas include:

  • Enroll your older adult in an adult day program – socialization and care for them, much-needed rest for you
  • Hire in-home caregiving help to get regular breaks
  • Find a volunteer senior companion program in your area.
  • Use a respite care service to get a more extended break.
  • Sign up for a meal delivery service or Meals on Wheels to reduce the number of meals you need to make
  • Ask family or close friends to help run errands, do some light housekeeping, or prepare some meals.
  • Buy caregiving and household supplies in bulk or, better yet, order online for home delivery. Eliminate as many errands as possible to save time and energy.

Share the caregiving responsibility

You might be doing such a fantastic job that nobody thinks you need any help caring for your older adult.  So even if you feel like you shouldn’t have to say it, ask siblings or close relatives if they’ll take on their share of responsibility so you can take much-needed breaks. Getting help from the family will be different in every situation. For one person, it could be moving mom to the sister’s house for a year. Another person and their sibling might take turns living with their dad for two months at a time. In other cases, it could mean having your sister stay at your house for a week every two months so you can get away. If they’re willing to help, be creative and flexible. No solution will be perfect, but any help you can get will lessen the workload for you.