Taking care of an aging relative can be difficult, even if you’re just checking in with them periodically. It takes time, it takes effort, and depending on the severity of their condition, it might be emotionally challenging.
How do you provide the best care possible for a relative whose health is going to steadily decline from here?
Become an Official Caregiver
According to Freedom Care, your first step is to become an official caregiver. There’s nothing stopping you from providing occasional care without any certifications, credentials, or official standing; you can check in on your relatives whenever you want (or whenever you can). But once you become a designated caregiver, you qualify to be paid for your efforts.
Caregiving is a lot of work and a lot of stress. Helping your relatives is a noble endeavor and a worthwhile one – but it’s much more rewarding and will fit into your life better if you’re getting paid for that work.
Set Reasonable Expectations for Yourself
Try to set reasonable expectations for the experience (and your role in providing care). If you expect too much of yourself or if your understanding of the situation is inaccurate, it could make you more stressed and interfere with your ability to help.
You aren’t able to reverse the aging process. There are some forms of care (particularly medical intervention) that you aren’t qualified to provide. Taking care of an aging relative is exhausting, difficult work at times. There are fundamental limits to how much you can help.
Once you accept these truths (and others), you’ll be much more realistic – and in a better position to provide adequate care.
Monitor Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)
Throughout your tenure as a caregiver, it’s important to pay close attention to activities your relative is or isn’t able to do. This will help you objectively evaluate their condition and relative independence – and call for greater care if and when it’s needed.
Activities of daily living (ADLs) are activities that are fundamental to daily life, and they include things like:
- Eating food and drinking water. Your relative needs to eat and drink throughout the day, every day, to survive.
- Moving throughout the house. They should also be able to move freely around the house, at least to an extent.
- Getting dressed/changing clothes. Ideally, your relative can dress themselves in the morning (and change clothes if and when necessary).
- Maintaining personal hygiene. Your relative should be able to bathe/shower regularly and keep up with hygiene habits like brushing teeth.
- Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are activities that are often associated with daily life, but aren’t absolutely essential for survival. These include things like:
- Cooking. Is your relative able to cook for themselves without risking injury?
- Cleaning. Can your relative clean up after themselves and keep the home in decent condition?
- Taking care of basic responsibilities. Is your relative able to handle responsibilities like paying bills and running simple errands?
- Communicating with others. Can your relative contact and effectively communicate with other important people? Can they call for help if/when they need it?
You may have several competing goals when providing care to a loved one, but there’s no goal higher than personal safety. You should be closely observing your relative’s behavior to make sure they’re not at risk of physically harming themselves. You should also keep a lookout for potential dangers that could jeopardize their health or safety when you’re not around, including both physical features and personal habits (such as a slippery tub, or a lapse in judgment when using the stove).
Take action when necessary to reduce risks.
Communicate With Healthcare/Medical Care Providers
If you don’t have medical training or certifications, you’re going to be reliant on medical and healthcare professionals to provide at least some care to your aging relative. To support them more thoroughly and make sure they comply with all medical recommendations, you should consistently communicate with those healthcare and medical care providers.
What medications should this person be taking? How often should they be taking it? What side effects exist for these medications? What types of behavior should be concerning? What should be cause for contacting emergency services?
Emphasize Healthy Habits
You can support your aging relative even further by emphasizing healthy habits that can mitigate some of the worst effects of aging and keep your relative as independent and fully functional as possible.
These are some of the best habits to support:
- Physical exercise. Even small amounts of daily physical exercise can help your relatives stay mobile and physically fit into old age. Encourage brisk walking and exercises with resistance bands.
- Mental stimulation. Mental stimulation is also important. Provide puzzles, games, and other activities that keep the mind active. You can even help your relative pick up and enjoy new hobbies.
- Socialization. You can provide at least some forms of socialization directly, regularly conversing with your relative and patiently listening to them. But it’s also healthy to encourage the development of other bonds and conversations.
- Safe living. Discourage your relative from taking unnecessary risks – like driving, if their physical condition makes driving potentially unsafe.
It can be difficult to remain patient with an older loved one, especially if they’re exhibiting symptoms of dementia. They may resist your help. They may suffer from mood swings and irritability. They may not recognize you or remember you clearly.
Understand that these issues aren’t your fault, nor are they directed at you, personally. They’re a byproduct of a devastating cognitive disease that your relative can’t fully acknowledge or control. Avoid fighting back or making things more difficult; simply accept whatever they’re saying, try to remain calm and polite, and take breaks when necessary to keep control of your emotional reactions.
Becoming a caregiver for an aging relative can be simultaneously rewarding and exasperating. But it’s always more manageable and effective when you set proper expectations and push yourself to take better care of that loved one.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.