By Helen McNeal, Executive Director – CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care
A quick quiz … what is the one thing that almost everyone considers to be a rewarding experience that everyone hopes to avoid and once it is over hopes never to have to go through again? Stumped?
It’s called caregiving … and nationally over 34 million adults provide care for another adult age 50 or older. That doesn’t include the number of Americans that care for a disabled child or young adult. With more of us living longer,the likelihood that you will become a caregiver for someone you love is growing with each passing day.
So what makes the difference between a rewarding experience and one that is a nightmare that you hope to put behind you quickly? Some of what makes the difference has to do with the relationship that precedes the arrival of the need for caregiving. There are still opportunities to change that too … but today let’s focus on the practicalities of being prepared for what lies ahead.
There are two important differences between caregiving experiences that are “rewarding”and those that are “never again.”
The first lies in the extent to which you are prepared and have organized the available resources to make sure that you are not only caring for your loved one but for yourself as well. Some easy tips on how to do this …
Do you know what is important to your loved one (or to you!) if you can’t discuss what choices? I am not talking just about health care decisions, although these are important, I am referring to the things that bring quality of life. Quality of life is very individual and if you would like to have some interesting conversations about this very important topic, I invite you to consider an evening with “MyGift of Grace” a game you can play that is distinctly like 20 Questions …except at the end of the evening, you will know some very important things that can help you be a better, happier caregiver or care receiver.
Spend a few minutes making sure that you know where all the important papers are. In a moment of crisis or loss, the last thing that you want is to be digging through drawers and boxes. And,if you want to help your loved ones, make a list of all your papers and where they are stored and give them a copy of the list.
Know the resources in your community. Many people believe that they can do caregiving alone. Doing so is a prescription for caregiver illness, burnout and “never again”. The resources are different in every community but here in San Diego County we are blessed with lots of options. Explore the following online resource centers to get a head start … www.caregivercoalitionsd.org, and www.caregivercenter.org (Southern CaregiverResource Center).
But these are only the “tips” of the iceberg. I recommend that everyone take time, long before they need it to get prepared and enhance their skill at the “art” of caregiving. This is the highest form of both self-care and care for someone you love. One way to do this is to take a couple hours a week for a month and join The CSU Shiley Institute for Palliative Care’s Caring for Those You Care About program. The program is offered allover San Diego County and you will find it time well spent. Visit our website for details.
The final secret to caregiving success lies in two words … flexibility and patience. Everyone’s caregiving experience is different and it is important to not only prepare well and plan, but be prepared to need to change the best-laid plans and be flexible. Navigating the care system is not easy and you will need your sense of humor, but if you are prepared so you can advocate for what you need, be flexible and patient in overcoming the challenges you face, at the end, you will say, “I have no regrets”. And isn’t that what we all want for ourselves and those we love?
For more information on palliative care, visit: www.csupalliativecare.org.