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Caregiver tips for managing the competing priorities of elder care and life

by Isabel Fawcett, SPHR

There are not enough hours in a day for any part-time, full-time, or temporary caregivers. The percentage of time spent by any caregiver depends on the severity of an elder's chronic disease and, well, the remainder of the caregiver's life. While there are no easy solutions to making eldercare and life 101 flows come together quietly, there may be ways you (and I) can make our days of care a little less choppy. That would be on a 'good' day, of course!

Avoid rushing your elder - or yourself

There is an old saying that ""haste makes waste."" That is at least one good reason to avoid rushing through life 101, including caregiving. Years ago at a garage sale, I found a compelling time management quote: ""We spend half of our lives trying to figure out what to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save."" The preceding quote is more than amusing to me. It applies to caregiving - and life 101. In Spanish, there is a saying, ""*Cójalo suave, llegarás igual."" (*Translation to English: ""Slow down. You'll still get there!"")

Time management sayings may or may not inspire you. Even if such quotes are not inspiring, if you are a caregiver it is worth your mental, physical and emotional well-being to better pace yourself by thinking about everything you do. Rushing hither and yon is associated with breathlessness, headaches, heartburn, muscle tension, a racing pulse, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, psychological and emotional anxiety, sweaty palms, nausea and a host of other undesirable symptoms.

How do you go about accomplishing your tall order of caregiving tasks - and life 101?

If you think through your days of care every now and then, you are likely to find ways to achieve and sustain greater life balance. Not to worry if you occasionally become detoured. Things happen - meaning that no two days in eldercare will ever be the same. Just do the best that you can by pacing your assistive care responsibilities.

Would ""grouping"" help you as a caregiver?

If I were one of the characters in the long-ago ""The Odd Couple"" television sitcom starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, I would be neither personality extreme. Yet, Tony Randall's ""Felix, Felix, Felix"" character would have cherished an informal home organization and time management technique I use in caregiving.

By ""grouping"" similar items in my home in pre-determined areas, I spend less time searching for things and/or wandering aimlessly in my home space when I might otherwise need to make short work of my competing priorities. All things related to laundry and widely used home cleaning products are in one general area.

Similarly, the following groups are part of my eldercare routine.

  • My mother's prescription medicines are stored in a large, multi-compartment tray container. Toting the mesh tray makes me look like a drive-in restaurant server. The tray includes Mom's prescriptions, glucometer, alcohol swabs, Neosporin, a few bandaids and then some! If anything is needed in short order, the white mesh tray is where you'll find everything required for care- everything but the kitchen sink, that is. If I'm present, the tray container is never far away.
  • Injection needle syringes, which I use to administer Mom's multiple daily insulin injections, are stored in my Wedgwood sugar bowl. One bowl of syringes sits on the dining table. The other bowl of insulin syringes is conveniently located in another an area nearest to where I (may) administer Mom's night-time insulin injections.

In what ways might you be able to ideally group caregiving supplies to avoid needless back and forth and endless wear and tear on your tired caregiver's body?

Groupings that may work for me are immaterial to what you may, or may not need or want to try. All that matters is what works to keep you from running yourself into the ground. Grouping to achieve greater efficiency in caregiving and life 101 is all about you!

  • Be prepared to try different groupings to see what may or may not work.

Don't be surprised if, or when, your elder plays musical chairs with groupings or anything else. When that happens, it is a reminder that caregivers can only do our best. ""The best laid plans of mice and men…"" - and, caregivers!

  • ""Early to bed, early to rise, makes a [man] healthy, wealthy and wise.""

The ""early to bed"" pearl of wisdom is an Old World saying some Baby Boomers grew up hearing repeated by elders. If you care for an elder in your home (or your elder's residence) forget about the ""early to bed"" part of the quote. If you manage to get to bed early in eldercare, consider yourself truly blessed.

If your bedtime varies as much as your elder's, you may consider occasionally setting your alarm to allow yourself to awaken at least a couple hours before your elder awakens. Even if you're sleepy and dead-tired and wish to go right back to sleep for a short snooze, it's all about you. Just consider trying the earlier awakening routine once, if it sounds right for you. You'll see what happens, and how you feel.

I regularly commit to 3 early awakenings weekly. More than a few caregivers over the years have shared that precious few moments of respite early in their days of care are more than worth it. Some caregivers enjoy prayer and/or meditation before life starts rocking and rolling. I may enjoy a cup of hot tea or coffee, a quiet pajama-clad stroll in my garden, an occasional early-morning walk, or meeting friends who may be inclined to join me over a cup of coffee or continental breakfast before they, too, must hit the ground running.

Speaking of laundry

As a full-time caregiver, my organizational preference is daily laundry to avoid piles of dirty laundry. By doing laundry daily, there are many times I avoid starting my weekends with dirty laundry. To avoid thinking about laundry as a last-minute mad dash to a finish-line, my mental cue to start the day's laundry is after I assist my mother take her shower and start getting dressed. Once Mom is able to independently finish getting dressed, I have ample time (courtesy of her joint stiffness, sadly) to load and set my washing machine - and forget it - until I have reason to be back in the laundry room area of my home.

By choosing my ideal timing for laundry, laying out my mother's sleepwear and turning down her bed covers while I am up and about during the course of the day, many assistive care tasks are completed well ahead of time, almost making for a seamless caregiving experience. (I said, ""almost,"" ok? There is no such thing as perfection in life - or in caregiving.)

How you manage your day depends on - you.

It's up to you to make your days of care more rather than less serene. That just may include agency respite care. It's all good. Please remember that nothing is perfect.