Few shortcuts to caregiving, but here are some tips

By Liz taylor
Special to The Seattle Times


In our jam-packed, pedal-to-the-metal lives, we look for fast solutions to life's challenges, the straightest line between two dots. No time to spare for intricate maneuvers.

But one of the biggest curves life can throw is caregiving - assisting someone we love who's become impaired. Often more than one person needs us. I had a client who cared for four family members at once. The U.S. Labor Department reported a few years ago that the average woman cares for older family members longer than for her kids.

Caregiving is often complicated, expensive and emotional, and there are frequently no shortcuts. Knowledge is key - keep your eyes open, learn, listen. Here are six tips to help:

• Don't guess why someone shows symptoms of physical or mental impairment. Get a diagnosis. If a doctor says, "It's just old age," get another doctor (old age is not a diagnosis). Then learn all you can about the condition, because how it progresses will set the care agenda, now and in the future.

• Know about care services that are available before you need them. This will let you make well-informed choices and avoid crisis decision-making.

• Every person who needs care should have a durable power of attorney for health and finances, and a living will, allowing a caregiver to make decisions on the person's behalf.

• If someone needs a lot of care, don't do it alone. Get other family members involved or hire help.

• When hiring a company or individual to provide care, focus on how they treat their staff, their experience and track record, and the tasks they cannot do (such as night care). This last item tells you about their flexibility and limitations, alerting you to when you'll need to shop for services again.

• Because caregiving can be one of the most challenging experiences any of us will ever face, caregivers must include ways to care for themselves. Take time off, take time away. It's not a luxury but a necessity, allowing you to provide better care, longer.

Liz Taylor, a specialist in aging and long-term care, counsels individuals and teaches workshops on how to plan for one's aging - - and aging parents. You can e-mail her with questions at growingolder@seattletimes.com or write to Liz Taylor, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.



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