By Michelle Seitzer
Surprises and changes, curveballs and crises: count on caregiving to deliver them all.
Sometimes the surprises are pleasant. Sometimes the curveballs and changes lead to positive action or a necessary care transition. But if we knew when a crisis would happen, would we be any more prepared?
Several members of Caregivers Connect, a Facebook discussion group, said they have no plan B. Several said a nursing home or other family members would serve as their plan B. The truth is, many caregivers are unprepared for a crisis—and that's not because they aren't expecting one, or procrastinating, or careless about future plans. Many are simply too deep in the trenches of daily caregiving—the "tyranny of the urgent"—to consider a plan B.
What happens when the caregiver for a person with dementia collapses in the living room, and the care receiver cannot dial 911? What happens when a caregiver needs emergency surgery? What happens when a home care worker doesn't show up and you absolutely have to get to work?
An endless range of challenging scenarios face caregiving families every day. It would be impossible to prepare for them all; some may never happen. Still, all caregivers should dedicate some thought, time, and resource allocation to "what if."
5 Tips and Tools for Creating a Plan B
- Short-term stays: Many assisted living communities offer short-term stays for a variety of situations. Some test the waters before making a long-term move. Some use it for respite. And in some cases, a caregiving crisis prompts the need for around-the-clock care in a community setting. Ask local caregivers and your family's primary care provider for their recommendations and start researching local communities that offer these short-term stays. Submit paperwork for the one(s) you feel could best serve a relatives' needs... should the need arise.
- Caregiving "chore charts:" You can create your own with Google or with pen and paper, but the online services provided by organizations like Lotsa Helping Hands or Caring Bridge make it easier to connect a number of people all over the country—even relatives overseas—and update them on a caree's changing needs and health status, or your own needs as a caregiver. Too often, well-meaning people offer caregivers help, but without a specific task or role, the good intentions fall to the wayside—and the needs remain unmet. Lotsa Helping Hands and Caring Bridge can make it easier for caregivers to delegate, whether in crisis or the daily grind.
- Emergency care provider: Let's say you've arranged for as-needed short-term stays, but you, the caregiver, has a fall in the middle of the night. Your relative with dementia is prone to wander at all hours and you cannot transport him to the care community in your current state. Care gap! Talk to a trusted friend or neighbor who could commit to being on call 24-7 should this kind of gap in coverage arise.
- Medical alert device or other visible "ID" for the caregiver: We usually think of getting an emergency call button for the care receiver, but caregivers should have one too. Consider this scenario: you're at the grocery store. While there, you feel faint. You pass out, and you have to be transported by ambulance. If you are wearing some kind of identification, like a call button, that designates you as the primary caregiver for the person with dementia, this will benefit the team treating you, as they'll be better equipped to provide for your family member during the crisis. Consider GreatCall's Lively Mobile medical alert device or the Alzheimer's Association's MedicAlert+SafeReturn program.
- Emergency first aid and urgent care apps: Download time- and life-saving apps like iTriage, Pocket First Aid, and CPR Hands-Only for those tense moments when your caree might need immediate medical attention.
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