Being a caregiver to an elderly parent is an enormous responsibility. You’re in charge of nearly every little aspect of your parent’s life and daily activities. It can be overwhelming, exhausting, and possibly even frightening at times. However, early planning and organization can make caregiving a little easier and less stressful.
Whether this is your first time as a caregiver or you’ve been doing it for some time, you need to be organized. It eliminates confusion, frustration, and wasted time. You may be reluctant at first because it’s just another thing to add on your “to do” list, but you’ll quickly find that it’s worth it.
Here are a few tips to help you get better organized as a caregiver. Note that if you’re a hired caregiver for an elderly adult, you can still use many of these tips, perhaps in conjunction with the family (primary) caregiver.
Gather All Paperwork in One Location. Get an accordion folder or three-ring binder with sections and place your parent’s paperwork in it. Label each section and sort accordingly—hospital bills; list of doctors/specialists phone numbers; list of medications, dosage, and what they’re for; insurance, and so on. Keep this binder in an easily accessible location in the home, and clearly labeled. That way, anyone else caring for your elderly parent (relative, home health aide, etc.) can quickly refer to it if necessary.
Maintain a “To-Do” List and Keep it Updated. Even if your elder parent’s schedule is relatively stable with few changes, it’s important to keep a “To-Do” list. Write down your caregiving responsibilities and activities, but also any family- or work- oriented tasks. You can use a physical paper daily/weekly organizer or an app on your digital device—whichever you feel most comfortable using.
Keep a Small Notebook for Observations. One of your roles as caregiver is observing your elder’s physical and mental health. That way you can note if there’s a change in say, eating habits or mental faculties.
Use a Large Wall Calendar for Appointments. In this day and age of smartphones and tablets, physical time management items seem old fashioned or unnecessary. In fact, having a large wall calendar displayed in a prominent location will help you stay more organized, because it’s always within view. You should still write down any appointments on your digital device as a backup. Furthermore, not only does a physical calendar benefit you, but anyone else caring for your elder and most importantly, your elder him/herself. It allows them to be involved in their own care.
Don’t forget to include any of your own appointments, so that there are no surprises. If a hired caregiver shows up on Thursday morning because you have your own doctor’s appointment, your elder will be well aware and not feel anxious or upset.
Utilize Other Help Services. As a family caregiver, it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. If you can afford it, consider hiring outside services to take care of smaller errands so you can focus on more important tasks. Hire a housekeeper to clean twice a month. Sign up for meal or grocery delivery. Find a local teenager to mow the lawn for a fee.
If you’re really swamped, you may want to hire an outside caregiver. A second person can help share the load a few times a week and leave you free to tackle other responsibilities, or simply take some personal time off for yourself. Places like Community Home Health Care offer home health aides, personal care aides, and even registered nurses for hire.
Find a Back-up Caregiver. What will happen if YOU get sick or are somehow incapacitated? Who will care for your parent? Ideally you’ll have a sibling who lives nearby, but not everyone is fortunate. Consider asking a neighbor or close friend to help if you’re not able to be there.
Keep a List of Medical Supplies and Medications for Restocking. You don’t want to suddenly find yourself out of medication, bandages, or other important supplies. Keep an updated list and make sure that you always have everything you need.
Don’t Let Responsibilities Pile Up. As a caregiver, it can be easy to let small tasks slide, but soon you’ll find yourself overwhelmed. Bills remain unopened; supplies are alarmingly low; dishes aren’t put away; your parent hasn’t done their physical therapy in days. Take care of each task as soon as you can and resist putting it off, or risk forgetting altogether. For example if a new bill arrives, open it immediately and pay it, then file in your folder with all the other paperwork.
Find Senior-Friendly Gadgets and Accessories. Observe the senior in your care and look around his/her surroundings. Sometimes you may need to purchase a few simple items to make things easier for the both of you. For example, a large adult bib can mean doing far less loads of laundry. A grabbing tool can mean less time for you picking up items off the floor or on a shelf because your senior can grab them him/herself. Do an online search for commonly used products for seniors, and strange as it sounds, keep an eye out for “As Seen on TV!” informercials. Many of those products are aimed in bettering the lives of seniors.
Put Everything in One Place. Spending ten minutes searching for the right medicine bottle can be stressful. Organize all important items and supplies so that they can be quickly found. Put all medicines in one spot, all physical therapy equipment in a basket, all feeding-related items together, etc.
Don’t Forget Regular Household Tasks. Typical household duties such as paying the bills, doing taxes, walking the dog, even changing the air filter in the air conditioner can fall by the wayside when you’re caring for an elderly parent. Make sure to include these tasks in your “To-Do” list.
It takes a little time to get organized and significant effort to stay organized. However, you will find that you’re more prepared, relaxed, and confident in your role as caregiver if you do so. Keep in mind that you may encounter a “trial-and-error” situation, in that not everything may work smoothly right away. In fact, not all of these tips may work for you. For example, you may not be able to afford hiring outside services, or rely on a neighbor as a back-up caregiver. That’s okay; try it from a different angle, or just skip that tip and move on to another. Following some of the tips is better than not doing so at all.