By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
Any caregiver knows caring for one other person is hard work, both physically and emotionally. But many people juggle caregiving duties for more than one person. What's it like caring for two?
Whether Mom and Dad both need your help or you're caring for family members who aren't living under the same roof, aiding more than one person requires stamina. And it's more common than you think. In fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 34 percent of female caregivers take care of more than one person.
“The biggest caregiver challenge is finding any time for themselves," Dr. Peter Rabins, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-author of The 36-Hour Day, says of these caregivers. “It's hard enough caring for one person."
So what helps? “You've got to organize and plan," says Gary Joseph LeBlanc, of Common Sense Caregiving, author of Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness, and a current caregiver to his mom and his sister. “Routine is the best thing you can do."
Having meals and activities at the same time means everyone knows what's going to happen throughout the day. “It might be boring for the caregiver, but it's really better," says LeBlanc. Post the routine on the fridge or use a journal. Leave spaces for whatever you need to record, from medications to bowel movements to bathing. A journal is especially helpful when you are juggling two healthcare issues, says Dr. Rabins.
This regularity also keeps the medication routine steady. “Have one person do the meds," says LeBlanc. “And you really need to have a good pharmacist." One person to organize and dole out meds means less chance of mix ups, and an experienced pharmacist can keep an eye out for any potential interactions.
And both Dr. Rabins and LeBlanc recommend getting help. “In my opinion, getting help is the first thing you need to do," says LeBlanc. Dr. Rabins agrees. “It's not always easy to find help," he says, “but start small with just a couple of hours once a week."
Dr. Rabins also suggests delegating when you can. Getting meals delivered cuts down on food buying, preparation and cooking and is an easy way to get a break. Cut down on shopping for essentials with online services like Amazon Pantry or Soap.com, which can deliver non-perishables right to your house.
As LeBlanc jokes, sometimes caring for two in the same house makes his life easier. “They will rat the other out," he says with a laugh. If his diabetic mom eats something she shouldn't, he's likely to hear about it from his sister.
As most caregivers know, change is inevitable. Dr. Rabins says even when you find something that works for taking care of more than one person, don't get discouraged when things suddenly go awry. “It's trial and error," he says. “Don't give up. Know when it's not working and go onto the next thing."
When you are overwhelmed, Dr. Rabins says turning to a support group (online or in person), a help line, friends, faith leaders, social workers and elderly services staff can help. “Caregiving for two isn't just double the challenge," says Dr. Rabins. “They can help a person think through all the options."