As part of National Family Caregivers Month, Stacey Bonner from the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center discusses strategies for being a family caregiver, how to have “the talk” with aging parents, and resources available to help those caring for family members.
Rosemary Cope: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections. I am here today with Stacey Bonner, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Family Life Education and her Masters in Business Administration. She has worked with children and families since 1999 and is currently the program coordinator at the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center. Caregiving can be a 24-hours-a-day/7-days-a-week job. Caring for a senior with Alzheimer’s or a child with special needs can be nonstop. Providing care around the clock can crowd out other important areas of life and you never know when you will need to rush to the hospital or leave work at the drop of a hat. Stacy, what challenges do family caregivers face, and what advice can you give to family caregivers?
Stacey Bonner: The main challenge I have seen with family caregivers is trying to manage time. Many caregivers feel there are not enough hours in the day for all the tasks they have to accomplish. One way to handle time management is to delegate those responsibilities. As a caregiver, you do not want to burden others, so you become the individual that tries to do everything. When taking on those responsibilities, you don’t realize that it is affecting you physically and emotionally. Ask for help. It does not make you a bad caregiver. Another challenge that I see a lot is people not taking it one day at a time. As a caregiver, you want to plan for next week, next month, five years from now, and things change rapidly with a loved one that is diagnosed with something. So, just take it one day at a time. Everything is not going to be the way you want it to be, but just keep going. You know – take it day by day. Another thing is respite. A lot of people do not take time out for themselves. They want to … they feel like they need to do everything for their loved one, especially when it comes to a spouse. “I signed up for this. I need to do everything.” But you need to also take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself does not mean taking a long vacation or taking a weekend away. Taking time for yourself could be just a nice bubble bath or just going to the park and just listening to the birds and sitting out in the sun. So, there are little things that you can do to take care of yourself so you can be a good caregiver to your loved one.
Rosemary Cope: Stacey, I heard you talk about delegating, which is a great idea because nobody can do it all by themselves, but what if I am a single person with no family or spouse or siblings to help? Then, what can I do to try to keep some of that burden off of my own shoulders all the time?
Stacey Bonner: You have to look at your support system that you have. You may not have any siblings or anything, but what about neighbors? Your neighbors, your loved ones’ neighbors … maybe they can come in the home and check on your loved one throughout the day. If you don’t want to go that route, what about if you belong to any faith places? You could always check into the members there. You know, you have some where they are retired. They don’t mind coming over and fixing mom a meal or fixing your husband a meal or doing transportation. So, just look at your support system and see who you have, and just ask them can they help. I mean, the worst they can say is no.
Rosemary Cope: Some of our listeners may not be at a place in their lives where they are a caregiver yet, but they are thinking about their future. Many experts agree by the time you approach 40, and a loved one is around 70, you should have “the talk” about issues so many families want to avoid, and this is called the 40/70 rule. Specifically, what are those topics that need to be covered in these talks?
Stacey Bonner: Rosemary, this is a good question, and a lot of people don’t like having “the talk.” As an adult child, you don’t want to have “the talk” with your parent, and your parent does not want to have “the talk” with their adult child. Being a family caregiver, it can happen at any time, and I always suggest to people – be proactive with this. Having the talk will give your loved one the opportunity to make those decisions. There may be a time when your loved one cannot make those decisions, so having this talk early on, they can have the opportunity to choose what they want. The talk should consist of making sure there is a plan in place for legal documents, so Power of Attorney, a will, any medical directives – anything like that should be included in that talk, and also where would your loved one want to go if they cannot stay at home. Everybody wants to stay at home as long as possible. Sometimes, whatever you are diagnosed with may not allow for you to stay at home, so where does your loved one want to go? Do they want to be in assisted living? If so, which one? Take this time to be able to plan those things. That way, when that time comes, you don’t have to wonder what it is that your loved one wants. The talk should comprise of all family members, friends, church members – whoever is going to help you when it comes to you being that primary family caregiver.
Rosemary Cope: And should this talk also include some ideas about finances, because that is so incredibly difficult and very personal, and parents might not want to reveal those things to their adult children, but that needs to be addressed also. Is that correct?
Stacey Bonner: Right. You don’t need to know like, dollar-for-dollar, how much your loved one has. Just know where their accounts are located. You know, do they have one across town? Where is it located? Also, talk about their insurance, burial, if they serve, where are those military papers if you are looking for resources later for that? And then just keep a list of those important things. Somebody told me somewhere where I was at is – keep those important papers (I think this is a good idea) in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. In case there is a fire, it’s in the freezer, and you know those important papers, you know where they are located, and you could just pull them out. If you have to take mom to the hospital, just pull these papers out so you know where everything is located. Even if it is long distance, have somebody local where your mom is at know where those papers are located.
Rosemary Cope: I like the idea about the freezer. That is different. Maybe a safe deposit box also, so you know these things are secure and you can get a hold of them. If one of our listeners, Stacey, would like more information, are there any online or campus resources that you might recommend?
Stacey Bonner: Yes. The Vanderbilt Child and Family Center has many programs and resources. One of the ones that I like … well, it’s a couple of them that are monthly that have a caregiver support group. So, if you are caring for an aging parent or a spouse, and you work on campus, there is a support group to kind of help you balance working and also caring for an aging parent. They also have monthly lunchtime sessions. So, you can go there and get topics. It may not be something that you are dealing with now, but like we said before, be proactive – get those topics and you may need them later on. A community resource is counseling on aging. That is a great one for those just starting off or just been in this role for a long time. They have an online senior directory, and you can also pick up a hard copy at any local library, and they have information from in-home care, transportation, to also housing, assisted living, independent living, nursing home. We talked about earlier respite care. In the community, there is Tennessee Respite Coalition. They have funds to kind of offset respite care. So, that is a good thing, too, where it is like, “I want to do for myself, but I don’t have the funds.” So, you can contact them and you don’t have to be just caring for an aging parent or a spouse. They have funds for even a special needs child.
Rosemary Cope: That is great information, and Stacey, thank you for sharing that with us. Thank you for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the “Add New Comment” link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story or a suggestion, please email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can use the “Contact Us” link on our website at healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu.