KNOXVILLE, TN – As we celebrate Homecare Month and National Family Caregivers Month, it is important that we recognize the important role we play in the HME Industry. As suppliers, we have a unique opportunity to make an impact not only on the lives of those we serve but on those who are on the front lines of homecare—the 65 million family caregivers who provide free care for their loved ones.
These caregivers are growing in numbers daily as the senior tsunami swells, and they look to us for resources, hope, and information. To support a family in need is one of the most gratifying parts of being in this industry, but to help them, we must understand where they’re coming from.
When one first begins the caregiving journey, it often takes awhile before self-identifying as a caregiver. “I’m just helping Mom with groceries and meal preparation” and “I’m just picking up Dad’s meds and sorting them for the week” becomes a gradual awareness of the new role and responsibilities you’re taking on long-term. It reminds me of when my grandfather moved in with my parents—the suitcase stayed out in his new room for the first year as he told everyone he was “just visiting.” While everyone else could recognize that he would never be able to live alone again, it took him awhile for him to realize and accept it. Likewise, it takes caregivers time to own their new title as one who provides care for their loved ones.
As time goes on, responsibilities often increase. Perhaps Dad needs more help with his activities of daily living, Aunt Teresa becomes increasingly fragile and forgetful with age, or your sister’s battle with cancer takes a turn for the worse. As caregivers, we rise to the challenge like a frog in a pot of water with the temperature slowly rising.
Inevitably, a day will come. As you will lay awake in bed, thinking about the To Dos and Could Haves and What Ifs for your loved one, a troubling question comes to mind: Can I give enough?
This is perhaps the scariest part of being a caregiver, not knowing if we can rise to the challenges we now face, no matter how desperately we want to make things better. Countless surveys and studies have told the same story: people prefer to remain their homes instead of an institutional setting. For most, home provides better health outcomes, increased quality of life, and more affordable health care options as a cost-effective health care model. The desire to remain at home is there.
But as you lay there in bed thinking of all of the needs your loved one now has, you have to be honest with yourself. Can you find resources so that you can provide or coordinate safe care for your loved one? Do you have a sustainable plan in place so that you don’t suffer from the detrimental effects of caregiver burnout? What are your expectations; are you mentally prepared to accept the natural progression of your loved one’s health issues?
Each caregiver has to come to terms with these daunting questions at some point, and the answers are as unique as the individuals themselves. Thankfully, you don’t have to be, give, and do everything on your own. There are more options than ever before. Google may become your best friend as you search for solutions to keeping your loved one safe at home. Your physician, home medical equipment company, family, and church may be a resource for new ways to meet the needs of your loved one and for yourself as a caregiver.
Tough roles require that you ask tough questions, and it’s important that you work within the reality of your loved one’s situation. Identify weaknesses in your current plan so that you can begin finding a solvent solution that truly satisfies your loved one’s needs. Consider hiring outside help for supportive services and respite care. Learn which medical equipment may help with the challenges you face, be it transferring your loved one from bed, making the bathroom accessible, or something else all together. Talk with health professionals to determine the course of care and whether or not it’s curative in nature.
A caregiver’s journey isn’t easy; it’s one of the hardest and most heart-wrenching roles you’ll ever love. You become an extension of that person—you share their responsibilities and oversee their safety. You become their advocate at the hospital and doctor offices and their voice when they have trouble communicating their desires. That’s a lot of pressure on someone who found him/herself in a role without formal training and preparation. What I’m not enough?
In times like these, I recall the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibur: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Dear caregiver: be flexible, be curious, and be honest with yourself. As long as you approach it with your loved one’s best interests in mind, you will find the right answer to can I give enough? Perhaps you can and should, and perhaps you cannot. Understand your capacity, your expectations, your loved one’s desires, and the natural progression of your loved one’s health situation. And have hope. The love that brought you into this role is the love that will see you through. Although there aren’t always fixes, there is always room for grace and loving care, no matter the season of life.
Ashley Plauché is communications director for Lambert’s Health Care and executive director of ATHOMES, in honor of Homecare Month and National Family Caregivers Month. Ashely can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.