Taking Care of Sick Parents
Taking care of a sick parent requires strength, support, and a well-designed plan. As the child and a caregiver for a sick parent, you’ll find yourself in a position that may feel awkward for your parent and that may create strange power imbalances in relationships that can throw your whole family including siblings and the nuclear unit into turmoil.
Your role as the caregiver is completely new terrain and if you understand how others before you have mapped out this landscape successfully you’ll be better equipped to orient yourself quickly.
Below, we provide some of the most basic things you need to know to be successful at taking care of a sick parent.
Be An Advocate
If you’re caring for a sick parent, one important role that you’ll play is Patient Advocate. When you advocate for a loved one, you’ll take a huge weight off their shoulders.
If your parents have recently received a devastating diagnosis, they’ll need someone to advocate on their behalf. This emotional support that you provide as your parent’s Patient Advocate will make it easier for them to focus on their health.
As your parent’s advocate you’ll be their:
You’ll need to take charge of their health plan and consider what healthcare professionals are telling you. Talk to your parent’s doctor(s) and take notes on what he or she says.
Your advocacy efforts will create a situation of empowerment. According to research, patients who feel empowered as a result of Patient Advocacy tend to report higher levels of satisfaction with their care teams.
Have a Plan
Having a care plan is essential for success at caregiving. Just winging it isn’t wise if you’re trying to do caregiving with a parent and you don’t have a team of professionals helping you create this plan.
If you’re on your own with caregiving, it might help to think about your caregiving efforts as something that’s happening within the context of a team that includes doctors, nurses, and any other healthcare professionals who are involved in your parent’s health outcomes.
● If you think of caregiving as a team effort, then you need to know who’s on your team.
● Keep information about your parent’s doctors and their specialties, in a place where you can find it easily.
● Make a list of all the medications your parent is taking so you always have access to it. Know which medications they’re allergic to and keep this with the same list of information.
● Talk to your parents about their wishes if their health were to quickly take a turn for the worse and have their wishes written up and signed in document form to avoid having to make difficult decisions on their behalf later.
● Keep a list of available and trustworthy caregiving resources handy for emergencies.
● Know which hospital your parents would want to go to in an emergency.
Technology these days can help you make a plan and stick to it. If you use reminders to keep track of appointments and stay on top of your parent’s caregiver schedule, life will be easier. Keep a hardcopy of your parent’s doctors’ contact information in a safe place, but also store phone numbers on your phone for easy access. Some doctors today are offering virtual consultations to reduce unnecessary in-office visits.
Pick a lead Caregiver
If your parent needs a home health aide or if they’re using a Consumer-Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) aide, make sure you designate which one is to be the lead caregiver. This person should be:
● A competent caregiver
● Someone who is able to articulate your parent’s basic needs from the caregiver’s perspective
● Someone who will be able to communicate with you fairly about the needs of other caregivers on staff
● This person should be able to maintain a clean and safe environment for your parent and set an example for other caregivers
Get Them Out of the Hospital as Soon as They Are Able
If your parents need to go to the hospital, do what you can to get them out of the hospital as soon as possible.
Being in the hospital is stressful for older patients and often, they receive better care in a home environment. Hospitals are environments where patients can be exposed to nosocomial infections that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to in the home. And older patients often feel like they have no control over what’s going on when they’re in the hospital.
Moving a parent out of the hospital and back into the home will give them an opportunity to rest more easily and to experience a greater sense of control over their healing process. Here are some tips for moving a parent back home safely and successfully:
● Ask questions of the hospital staff regarding your parent’s condition and care requirements before leaving the hospital (ask about medications, treatment methods, evaluation and reporting methods, etc.).
● Evaluate the safety of your parent’s home when they return (check for tripping hazards, accessibility, security of transitional areas, etc. to ensure that the home is safe easy to move around in while they are recovering).
● If you will be hiring a home caregiver for your parent, consider arranging a meeting between your parent and the caregiver before the move from the hospital back home. Consider asking the caregiver to be present when your parent returns home from the hospital.
● Set up home monitoring systems and easy ways for your parent to contact you at any time if they need to.
● Ask for help if you need it.
● Consider an ADL or IADL examination to ensure that your parent will receive the most targeted, effective home care after they return home.
● Talk to your parent about the move from hospital to home so that you can arrange a plan and prepare them for this move in advance.
When your parent is first moved home after a hospital visit, plan to be available to them for a period of time afterwards no matter what.
They will need additional support during the transitional period because their routine may need to undergo changes and there may be pragmatic aspects to work out during this time.
Bring Treats to the Nurses
The nursing team that takes care of your parents during their stay in the hospital or in a home care setting plays an integral part in their recovery and well-being.
Nurses are responsible for numerous essential tasks, including medication management, observation of vital signs, certain patient assessments, education and emotional support for the patient and family members, arrangement of external resources for the patient and their family, and more. The members of your parent’s nursing team are crucial on the healing journey.
Because nurses play a major role in the healing process, it’s good to show them your appreciation if possible. Small gifts like coffee, donuts, a thermos for food or a water bottle, or another similar gift will let them know that you appreciate their hard work and commitment to caring for your loved one.
Even if you are unable to give a big gift, even a small token of appreciation and kind words of gratitude is an excellent gesture. Many nurses do their jobs heroically with little acknowledgement along the way, so bringing your parent’s nursing team a special treat is sure to be received well.
Pray for them
No matter your religion or your parent’s religion, praying for them and with them can have miraculous effects on their recovery. Here are some examples of the many proven ways that prayer can benefit your loved one:
● Daily “prayer time” has been shown to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory loss and/or cognitive issues.
● Prayer lowers stress and anxiety levels and reduces depression symptoms.
● Patients experience pain relief when they pray regularly.
● Prayer strengthens one’s will to live, which can give elderly, ailing parents the strength they need to fight illness or other issues.
● If a person knows that another individual is praying for them, it can lift their spirits, which thus can improve chances of recovery.
● Studies have shown that people who pray regularly live longer, healthier lives.
● Prayer improves emotional well-being. Because dark emotions can be toxic and an impediment to healing, finding a way to uplift emotions can encourage healing.
Not only can prayer provide support to an ailing parent, but it can also be a source of support for adult children and other family members. Prayer and meditation have been studied and are proven to reduce stress levels in people of all ages. Even when your stress levels are sky high, if you are caring for your loved one you will need to be able to manage your stress levels and keep them under control. Prayer and faith in a higher power gives caregivers the strength and courage they need to handle all kinds of situations with love and compassion.
Some other prayer-related practices such as Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation have been acknowledged for many years as valuable healing practices. Tai Chi is a particularly good healing technique for elderly individuals as well as for young people and can help heal mind, body, and soul in a gentle, controlled way. The power of prayer is known throughout the world and can hardly be understated.