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Published on August 30, 2013

Reversing Roles

Dr. Danielle Gindlesberger shares how to thrive as your parents’ caregiver

Each of us envisions caring for our parents at some point in our lives. We have all heard of the “sandwich” generation and expect to join it. Unfortunately, one can become part of this group earlier than expected. I wanted to share my journey of caring for my father with all of you.

Just as I was starting my career in medicine, with two children still in diapers, I unexpectedly became my father’s caregiver. All of a sudden, I was faced with caring for him, my husband, two children and trying to start my career.

It was daunting to say the least, but fortunately I had training as a physician and knew what resources to use. Because of those resources, I was able to perform the juggling act then, and continue to do it today. Many think it is amazing that we can provide care for our children and parents at the same time, but with the right connections it is much more manageable.

I often tell people the story of my father and how fortunate I was that I had an amazing group of people to help me — I could never have done it all without them (I work with some amazing physicians). I would like to share with all of you some resources and as well as some helpful hints that have allowed me to care for my father over the past four years while maintaining a household and career.

1. Attend Appointments

This can be challenging if mom or dad is reluctant to have assistance. If memory loss or dementia is a concern and your parent is not open to you attending an appointment, please contact their physician to voice any concerns you have.

The physician will not be able to discuss their care with you if your parent has not given consent, but that doesn’t prevent you from giving examples of concerning behavior, unsafe events and memory loss. This information can be very helpful in making sure your loved one is cared for and safe.

If mom or dad is agreeable, please do attend an appointment with them. It is helpful for you to hear the plan for their care so that you can ask questions and clarify points that might be unclear. As always, bring all your parent’s medications with you to the office to ensure they are not taking something that was previously stopped.

2. Get Organized

This is a good time to look at their overall health care picture, medication refills, office visits, tests, etc. It is also a good time to ensure they have completed Power of Attorney forms and that they are correct and accessible. You can get Power of Attorney for Health Care forms from this website as well as online from the State of Wisconsin.

While these forms require co-signatures (and your physician cannot sign them), your parent’s doctor can be helpful in explaining them and, depending on the health and age of your parent, have an open and honest conversation about their end-of-life wishes.

We often avoid these conversations as they are difficult, but having them before a time of crisis allows for a free exchange of information. It is a wonderful feeling to know that you are following their wishes when they are no longer able to voice those for themselves.

3. Get Online

A number of online resources are designed to help caregivers find tips, talk with other family caregivers and research long-term care options:

  • Family Caregiver Alliance: Get advice on navigating programs for family caregivers and communicating with physicians.

  • 3GenFamily: Connect with others that are going through similar challenges as caregivers and read articles on the latest caregiving topics.

  • Caring.com: Get expert answers to caregiving questions and access the caregiving research center.

4. Gather Support

It isn’t easy being a caregiver, so don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Loop siblings and other family members into your parents’ appointment schedule, and count on them to share the burden of transportation and other errands when you can’t fit it in.

Need more hands-on help? A number of regional and national organizations provide home health services, including the Visiting Nurse Associations of America.

A Point to Remember

Not only is your parent’s physician a resource for you, but your own doctor can be helpful as well. Sharing your challenges as well as your successes can be empowering for others that are caring for a loved one.

What are your biggest challenges as a caregiver?  Share with us and we will give tips and hints for tackling them.

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