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 couldnt 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 source).
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 wouldnt 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 Robertdoor 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 werent surprised when I needed to take time off on short notice.
2. Flexibility. Again, this applies to both the Care Facility and your job. It isnt 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 wouldnt know what to do without a to-do list or checklist. These tools help keep me organized at work as well as with Robertcare and help remind me of my priorities. Plus, it gives me such satisfaction to cross something off the list!
4. Boundaries. This is a tough one but essential for the caregivermental health. Itokay to tell your loved one they cant call you at work unless itan 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 itokay to have these boundaries. No guilt allowed with this one!
5. Creativity. 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), thereno 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. Itimportant to remember you cant 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