By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
Despite the challenges of caring for another person, many family caregivers believe they should shoulder the entire caregiving responsibility. Few of them want to call in help or have a back-up caregiver available—even when the care is nearly 24/7. They might be reluctant to let someone else take Mom to the doctor or they don't want to upset Dad with an unfamiliar face. There's also a sense of pride in caring for someone they love and they may feel that sharing caregiving is a failure.
But being the sole caregiver puts them in a precarious position. According to the Valuing the Invaluable 2015 Update by the AARP Public Policy Institute, one third of family caregivers rate their own health as fair to poor, meaning the main caregiver could require care if they get sick. And even if you're a caregiver in great health, something as simple as a sprained ankle can sideline you for a few days.
In the best circumstances, introducing new caregivers is tricky for both sides.
“We're creatures of habit," says Brenda Avadian, MA, of TheCaregiversVoice.com. “We get used to working with or being cared for by one person. Change is a bit scary."
But having a back-up plan in place ensures that your specific style of caregiving continues as smoothly as possible, even in an emergency. “When a caregiver is able to take a few extra steps to ensure there's a Plan B when Plan A falls apart – and we all know it will – it will bring some peace of mind," says Avadian.
Even if it's hard to do, introducing another caregiver helps everyone. Adding an additional caregiver to the mix gives the main caregiver a break and also allows time for a natural relationship to develop with the new caregiver. If there's an emergency, an unfamiliar caregiver won't add to the stress.
And that brings an added bonus, too. Most people enjoy seeing new faces, so your parent might truly enjoy having another person around as long as they also know they can count on you, too.
Avadian recommends asking experienced caregivers or caregiving experts for guidance on how to make it all work. “It takes knowing what to plan for amidst the day-to-day responsibilities of caregiving," she says. The more familiar your alternate caregiver is with your routine and specific preferences, the better your chance for success.
A solid back-up plan includes caregivers you can call on to jump in seamlessly. If your caregiver has helped out for a couple of hours a week (giving you a little break in the process!), they know your schedule and they know the approaches and the routines that make the person being cared for most comfortable, says Avadian. “In an emergency you can't simply call and ask someone to step in," she says. “It's best to have prepared in advance with trial periods with one or more Plan B caregivers."
In the hectic life of a caregiver, anything that makes life easier is worthwhile. “Preparing with a Plan B gives us peace of mind knowing if the need is there you can quickly call on help," says Avadian.