Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tricks for the Working Caregiver

I’m calling these “tricks” deliberately.  Sometimes we have to trick ourselves into helping ourselves.  Working caregivers think they can do it all (I know – I am one).

The fact is, we can’t do it all (but admit it: we still secretly think we can).  See why we need tricks?
What is a working caregiver?  For starters, the obvious fact is that all caregivers are working.  A working caregiver is someone who is a caregiver but also holds down a job. 
That’s two full-time jobs if you’re keeping count.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP (November 2009), 73% of family caregivers providing care for someone over the age of 18 either work or have worked while caregiving.   According to the same study, 20% of family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence from their job at some point during the caregiving experience.

If we can’t give 100% to both of these full-time jobs, then what are some tricks to help manage the situation as well as maintain our health and sanity?
1.        Create a team.  Talk with other family members about the caregiving situation.  See if there are things the other family members can do in order to help.  If someone is good with money, they can manage the caree’s finances.  Is someone else a thrifty shopper?  Send them to the grocery store on occasion.  Ideally, someone could take over the caregiving duties for a few hours so you have a break.  Don’t forget to confide in your friends about your situation so they can provide emotional support or maybe even make dinner occasionally.  This is not the time to keep your caregiving situation a secret.  Now is when you need a large, supportive team.   

2.       Communicate with your employer.  Tell them what is going on.  Do you need a schedule change?  Maybe you even want to reduce your hours.  Give your employer the chance to work with you so talk to them about your situation.  You need them on your team too. 

3.       Manage Expectations.  If you know your day job is busier at a particular time of year, prepare for that by not planning major changes for your caree at the same time (note to self . . . ).  Acknowledge you will get tired, you will get cranky and you will even get sick on occasion.  Don’t beat yourself up when you are feeling this way because guilt is not going to help anyone.  Do the best you can.  Expect that not everything will go perfectly smoothly.  Actually, expect things to be pretty darn bumpy sometimes but know the next day may be just a little better. 

4.       Ask for help.  Why else did you create a team?  Ask them for help – specific help.  Some people actually don’t know where to start when it comes to caregiving and so need a little direction (sometimes a lot of direction).   Even if you know you can do the task better or you think you can eventually do the task, ask for help anyway.  The task is then done and you’re able to cross something off your list (what a great feeling!).

5.       Seek out resources.  Find reliable online medical supply companies (shopping for supplies online is so much easier and less time consuming than driving to a store).  Connect with social service agencies in your area.  Join a support group (whether in person or online).  Denise Brown has created which brings family caregivers together in a supportive and enriching environment.  Denise has also written an e-book called “The Working Family Caregiver: Tips for Balancing Career & Caregiving.”  Click here to learn more about this resource and to download the free e-book. 
What suggestions do you have for the working caregiver?  If you are a working caregiver, what has worked for you and what tricks (or tips) can you add? 


Unknown said...

What great advice Trish! When Jon's seizures began I was working full time and had no family members to help. So I enlisted neighbors to come by and check on him at regular intervals. It gave me peace of mind so I could concentrate at work. We had quite a system going at one point. One HAS to be inventive.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Bill, You do have to be creative! I'm happy you were able to develop a system that worked and that your neighbors were so helpful.

Judy Stone-Goldman said...

Once again my comment disappeared--it's happening when I try to choose a Google account for sign in.

Anyway: What I said the first time was that I have read recently that many caregivers are afraid to let an employer know about their caregiving responsibilities for fear the employer will think they are not committed enough to the job. How sadly ironic given the level of commitment is takes to be a caregiver!

Your strategies are great, particularly building a team and asking for help. I don't know how you do it, as the caregiving I did for 3-4 years, which was on a minor level compared to your involvement, really took a lot out of me.

Hope you get everything you need and deserve!

Judy Stone-Goldman
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Judy, You are right about the dilemma in letting an employer know. As a manager, I strive toward creating an open and collaborative environment but realize there are other employers who don't work the same way. That is unfortunate because, as you pointed out, caregivers are some of the most organized, committed and resourceful people there are!

I'm sorry you've been having trouble with the commenting. I'll see if there's something I can do on my end to make it easier. Thanks for your extra effort in leaving a comment!

Heidi Alberti & Atticus Uncensored said...

As always, great advice! I can imagine the stress that can accumulate with full-time career and full-time caregiving. I think it's terrific that you are able to be open & honest with your employer. All folks in positions of management should be required to understand these sorts of situations, in my opinion, and be open to flexibility (esp. for a stellar employee -- which you are, no doubt!)

If you need another team member, you know I'm close. I'd be happy to be that person going on a grocery run or bringing you a nice meal if you don't have time to prepare one. Seriously, consideration adding me. Do I need a tryout?? lol!

Heidi & Atticus
"commentary to give you paws..."

Imogen Ragone said...

This is such practical advice for anyone in this situation - especially having a team to support you. Even though I'm not personally in this situation, I'm thinking it would be really important to carve out a little "me time" - time to support the health and well-being of the caregiver. I imagine, as a working caregiver, it's hard to even think of putting yourself first, even for a few minutes. But I'm recalling the instructions on an airplane to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help anyone else! I would think that looking after yourself - giving yourself just a bit of time for your own needs - would help you do both your jobs better.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Imogen, You hit on an important topic -- "me time." :-) Seriously, caregivers are usually last on the to-do list but it's critical to carve out some time for exercise or relaxation before they burn out or get sick themselves. I think there's a little bit of guilt associated with taking that time, though. I have been stressed out between work & caregiving responsibilities and decided to get a massage tonight! I could have been doing a zillion other things but I did that and am happy I did. I like your example of the airplane emergency instructions -- perfect example of how it's necessary to take care of oneself! Thanks for visiting.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Yes, Heidi, try-outs are coming up! :-) I so appreciate your offer and will take you up on that one day. Not all employers are flexible unfortunately (remember, even with mine -- who is great with my situation -- I had to push for the ability to take sick leave to care for Robert since sibling care isn't covered under FMLA). Happy to have you back!

keepupweb said...

Trish, This is important advice. I can't imagine the additional stress of being a caregiver. From reading your blog, I know your husband is a huge source of support and I can tell you have family and friends to help you. I think your positive outlook is a big plus. Best wishes. The fact that you do this out of love shows.

Trish Hughes Kreis said...

Thanks, Sherryl. I definitely couldn't do it without the help of my husband and the support of friends and family. A sense of humor (and Robert having a good sense of humor, too), definitely helps.