When my grandparents were still alive, my parents and my extended family were always negotiating care of my grandparents. My mom worked the night shift, leaving her free during the day. It often fell to her to take her in-laws to doctor’s appointments, with my youngest sister (not even preschool-aged yet) in tow. Eventually, my grandparents moved in with one of my uncles, and he and his wife became the primary caregivers, balancing full-time work and caregiving, and then after the birth of their son, parenting.
Recent studies and articles have pointed out the financial, physical, and emotional toll caregiving can have on a person. The average family caregiver for someone 50 and older spends an additional $5,531 per year on out-of-pocket caregiving expenses, according to an AARP 2008 study. Caregivers also suffer from higher levels of depression, stress, and are at increased risk of heart disease, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
How can you balance caring for your family, your elderly parents, and your professional work life? I’m a big fan of figuring out how to utilize technology to help in everyday responsibilities.
Websites like Lotsa Helping Hands or Hospice Journey are caregiver-specific sites that allow you to create a website to track a loved one’s progress, manage multiple caregivers, and keep long-distance friends and family up-to-date. And speaking of keeping in touch, new tools like Hangouts by Google+, Skype, and Apple’s FaceTime make it easy to see family members during a long-distance conversation. Long-distance caregivers might use these tools to keep an eye on Mom and Dad, or maybe it’s just a way for siblings to stay in touch with the primary caregiver. These would have been great tools for my parents several years ago, after we moved out of state, away from the rest of our family and my grandparents.
Has your elderly loved one filled out their advance directives yet? Have you filled one out yet? Last year, the Casa de la Luz Foundation also began offering the option to fill out the Five Wishes, an advance directive, online.
Search through your smartphone’s app market to find free or low-cost applications that can help you manage care. Utilize your phone’s calendar to track and remember appointments, or use the alarm function to set medication reminders. Use a business card reader app to keep track of your loved one’s various doctors. Do you fill prescriptions through Walgreens or CVS? Both of them offer apps that make it easy to refill prescriptions by just scanning the barcode.
Make managing your household easier with a shopping list app, a budget app, and a bill pay reminder. Use a recipes app, like AllRecipes or Epicurious, to find new and healthy recipes to make at home. I’m sure my family would have appreciated quick tools like these when creating meals that were appropriate for my diabetic grandmother.
Take advantage of your tablet’s note-taking app, or download one like Evernote, to take notes at doctor’s appointments. You could also use an FTP service like Dropbox to upload your notes and share the files with other family members. It makes shared caregiving easier because you’ll all have access to a record of visits and contacts. Another great option is using Google Calendar and Google Docs so family members can know when appointments are, who’s going, receive reminders, and create and share notes about appointments.
Not every tech tool out there will be for you, but give them a whirl. Find the tools that help you stay organized, or the ones that make your life just a little more efficient.