Be a Hero

Tools for Your Caregiving Arsenal

SuperheroJohn Schall, CEO of National Family Caregivers Association in Kensington, Md., knows what it takes to be a caregiver. What's more, he knows how it feels to be a caregiver.

"Those who are new to caregiving may immediately feel overwhelmed and isolated," he says. "They feel unprepared for the caregiving task, and they tend to feel they are out there on their own."

Another thing Schall knows is that caregiving doesn't have to be an isolating task. There are plenty of tools at your fingertips to help you conquer your fears and be the best caregiver you can be.

Contact the Experts

When you're in the quicksand of caregiving, you might not know which branch to grab to pull yourself out. Fortunately, when you're overwhelmed, you need only reach out to one expert organization that can help steer you in the right direction.

Several caregiving organizations exist to help put you on the right path, such as National Family Caregivers Association, Family Caregiver Alliance, National Alliance for Caregiving and VA Caregiver Support, to name a few.

These one-stop shops can answer your minor questions, help you find a community and provide counseling on everything from understanding specific diagnoses to the ins and outs of caregiving.

"The National Family Caregivers Association offers education and support to family caregivers free of charge," explains Schall. "We have information on how to communicate effectively with health professionals, how to manage medications, how to prepare for the financial burden of caregiving and other issues."

Much of this information can be found right on the organization's Web site.

Understand the Cost of Caregiving

"As caregivers we all face the same questions: Am I prepared to handle the caregiving role? Do I know enough? Should I quit my job to be a full-time caregiver? What about the financial burdens? Where can I get help?" says Schall.

Those financial questions might be among the most important.

In a recent survey of adult members of Aging Care, an online community for people caring for elderly parents, the majority of respondents reported that they play a major role in finances. Half spent more than $3,000 per year to assist with daily living expenses (92 percent), housing (44 percent), prescription drugs (24 percent) and medical care (23 percent).

In addition, almost a third of the surveyed caregivers said they were expecting to use their own retirement savings to assist their parents financially.

Four of five (80 percent) of the caregivers expect to work after they reach age 65. Of those, 62 percent will do so out of necessity.

Caregiving expenses

Again, organizations that specialize in caregiving can put you in touch with counselors who can help you plan for the financial responsibilities that come along with caregiving and help you make smart financial decisions for your future.

Read the full survey results from eHealth, Inc., here.

Arm Yourself With Online Tools

These days organizing your life is easy thanks to several online tools.

In fact, Philips Lifeline recently released a free mobile app to help connect caregivers. CarePartners Mobile offers a secure online community as well as the ability to create, manage and view upcoming caregiving tasks using a shared to-do list. Users can also assign tasks and sync tasks to smartphone calendars.

“CarePartners Mobile allows people to spend more time caregiving and less time trying to determine what needs to be done and who is doing it,” said Mark Sabalauskas, senior product manager at Philips Lifeline. “The app also taps into the growing trend of using mobile technology to communicate, organize our lives and improve our health.”

The app, designed for iPhone and Android, is available on iTunes and Google Play. Find out more here.

Another online tool is BrightStar Care's CareTogether.com. The site enables users to organize medications, appointments and visiting schedules.

Keep track of all the new technologies coming out each month at National Family Caregivers Association's Plugged-In Caregiving page.

Plan Ahead When Taking Time Off

"Finding time for yourself is hugely important," says Schall. "Caregiving is an extremely stressful role. You need to schedule respite time for yourself by asking others to help with the caregiving so you can get a break."

But how can you leave the stress behind when getting away?

One way is to hire someone to assist. If you're tracking caregiving duties with an online program, it will be easy to pass responsibilities for just a couple of hours or even a couple of weeks. Companies such as BrightStar Care, headquartered in Gurnee, Ill., can provide caregivers for those time ranges. During the holidays, BrightStar Care even offers a Hire An Elf program to assist with everything from transportation to decorating.

Find out more here.

"Take care of yourself. Look after your own health. This is for your loved one's sake as well as your own. After all, if you become incapacitated, who will care for your loved one?" Schall says. "Don't feel guilty about asking for help and getting the respite you need to stay strong for your loved one."

Once you get organized and get help, you're well on your way to fulfilling your hero role.

Don't believe you're a hero? Schall says to think again.

"Patients with chronic conditions who have caregivers who are highly engaged in their care report fewer health problems, have a lower hospital readmission rate and are less likely to experience a medical error," he says.

About the Author

Elisha Bury is the editor of The Mobility Project. She can be reached at consumer@hmemediagroup.com.