When I realized my brother,
Robert, could no longer live independently my son was still
in high school, my girls were in college, my husband was disabled
due to a back injury and I was a full-time legal administrator
for a mid-size law firm.
Life was already pretty full.
How was I going to fit in caring for my youngest brother who,
after a lifetime of uncontrolled seizures from epilepsy, was
no longer able to make safe and healthy decisions for himself?
I questioned myself for half
a second and then realized: it just had to be done. I couldn’t
stop being a mom or wife or give up my career – I needed
to find a way to add caring for my brother while also working
and raising a family. According
to the National Alliance for Caregiving, “Over seven in
ten caregivers were employed at some time when they were caregiving
(73%).” Obviously, I was not alone in figuring out a way
to balance all of these responsibilities (.pdf
After much thought about the
“how,” it was decided an Assisted Living Facility
would be the best option for Robert. He was very social and
this type of facility would offer him plenty of activities.
An Assisted Living Facility would also have a nurse on staff
to ensure he took his medications when he was supposed to and
would allow Robert to maintain his independence in his own private
room while being kept safe.
The Facility also needed to
be close enough for me to visit and oversee his care because
caring for Robert wouldn’t stop with his placement in
the Assisted Living Facility. It takes time to manage his medications
(many and often at very specific times) and behavior (Robert
can get cranky due to side-effects of anti-seizure medications).
Like many of us, he also has trouble adjusting to change and
needs me to be there for him to manage a successful transition.
I had to find a way to manage
his care in the Facility while maintaining my focus at work.
Not an easy task for a working caregiver but it is possible.
These seven tips have
helped me maintain my sanity while working and caring for Robert.
1. Communication. Communication
is essential with both the Care Facility and your employer.
Get to know the Care Facility staff and be sure they know how
to reach you in case of an emergency or other critical situation.
I had a notice with all of my contact information taped to Robert’s
door so it was easy to reach me. Also, the more the staff is
comfortable with you, the quicker smaller issues will be brought
to your attention before becoming big issues. Talking with my
employer about my new caregiving situation was also essential
so they weren’t surprised when I needed to take time off
on short notice.
Again, this applies to both the Care Facility and your job.
It isn’t always possible to rearrange work duties when
caregiving duties arise, but it can be helpful to think about
upcoming work tasks and how these can be completed even when
caregiving emergencies happen (and they do!). Flexibility with
the Care Facility might mean visiting a little later than normal
so your loved one can have dinner with fellow residents. Letting
go of “should” and embracing compromise will do
wonders for your stress level.
3. Checklists & To
Do Lists. This is my personal favorite and one which
provides great comfort. I wouldn’t know what to do without
a to-do list or checklist. These tools help keep me organized
at work as well as with Robert’s care and help remind
me of my priorities. Plus, it gives me such satisfaction to
cross something off the list!
This is a tough one but essential for the caregiver’s
mental health. It’s okay to tell your loved one they can’t
call you at work unless it’s an emergency. Robert has
a tough time with this one but I keep working on it with him.
Setting boundaries such as this may not always work but it is
a start and is important to remember that it’s okay to
have these boundaries. No guilt allowed with this one!
Coming up with creative solutions in the workplace will help
stave off the feeling of having to quit a job in order to fulfill
the caregiving role. Flex-time, job sharing or a combination
of working from home and the office are just a few creative
solutions employees can propose to their employer.
6. Sense of Humor.
When Robert calls me to report a flood from an overflowing toilet
(because I got him the non-flushable bathroom wipes and he used
them as flushable), there’s no use in getting upset. A
sense of humor will go a long way in managing these minor crises
and will give you some amusing stories to tell at work.
7. Ask For Help. It’s
important to remember you can’t do it all. Ask for help
from co-workers, your manager as well as the Care Facility.
Sometimes it might be necessary to call in outside help. I had
to use the local Ombudsman in order to resolve a misunderstanding
at one Care Facility and it was a huge relief to know I had
someone helping me during a very stressful situation. For more
information about what an Ombudsman can do to help, please read
“The Important Role of a Long-Term
Care Ombudsman” by David Besnette, Founder/Editor
of Assisted Living Directory. Contacting the local Area
Agency on Aging can also be a helpful resource.
Caregivers are probably the hardest
working employees an employer has and the ones who are expert
at creative problem-solving, multi-tasking and setting priorities.
Employers do not want to lose this sort of talent. Using these
seven tips will not only help the working caregiver maintain
a balance between working and caregiving but also keep the employee
in the workforce longer than otherwise thought possible.
Additionally, lessons learned
while caregiving can, in many instances, translate to the workplace.
Perhaps not the lesson of learning the difference between “flushable
wipes” and “non-flushable wipes” but that
lesson is critical in caregiving.
- Article by Trish
Hughes Kreis exclusively for Assisted Living Directory
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