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Five Tips for Successful Caregiver Respite

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caregiver for elderly Mom

Who can you trust to take care of your dear loved one while you take a vacation or attend a family event? How can you get other tasks accomplished as a full-time caregiver for an elderly parent or spouse? Caregivers need to rest and recharge, and there are many times when necessity pulls a caregiver away from their care recipient as well.

Respite is defined as a period of rest or a break. For caregivers, this might mean a vacation or taking a few days to attend an important event, or daily or weekly opportunities to continue with outside activities, run errands, etc. But, guilt and anxiety often keep caregivers from taking a vacation or even a short break. Or, you might have had a horrible experience in the past trying to take such a break and now you feel it is not worth the trouble. Over the years, we have worked with many families to arrange for respite with the peace of mind that everything is set up to go as smoothly as possible. We promise, it can be done!

Here are our eldercare experts’ tips on setting up a successful caregiver respite:

  1. Put a trustworthy, experienced care team in to place. This is the piece to handle most carefully. If you have loved ones or friends who will help out, consider support they might need and challenges they might face. Just because you handle everything for Mom does not mean your sister will be so well-equipped to do so. You might want to spend a few days together first going over things and having your loved one observe what you do before deciding if additional support is needed. If you hire caregivers to help, research carefully and know the reputation of the company (and, yes, we do emphasize company, because we believe the protections and backup you get with a company is the best way to ensure successful care). Talk to the company about how they will handle different situations and what they do to ensure their caregivers understand how to take care of your loved one.
  2. Think through your routine and what someone coming in fresh would need to know to do your job. There are a lot of things you do for your loved one that you might not even think about anymore. It really helps substitute caregivers to understand the routine and little things about your loved one and their care.
  3. Get organized. Make sure you leave a list of contact information, a complete medication list and history. You will need to leave copies of advance directives and local/alternative contacts (particularly if you are traveling someone where you might be inaccessible or difficult to reach due to timing). Can substitute caregivers easily access everything they might need while you are gone?
  4. Consider having a “manager”. If you are doing a short, local break this may not be much of an issue, but for longer trips and times when you may be further away (and to ensure you get a “real” break), you should consider putting someone else temporarily “in charge”. This doesn’t mean that you won’t be contacted if there’s a major emergency, but it can be useful to empower someone to oversee things and handle any immediate needs that arise. You will need to talk to providers ahead of time about permission for someone else to be involved with care (i.e. if your sister is coming in to help but does not usually attend your Mom’s doctor’s appointments). You can also hire a geriatric care manager for the respite period; they are experienced in handling this sort of situation and can give you great peace of mind. The care manager can also help you prepare and anticipate potential concerns to make things go smoothly.
  5. Practice. It may help to take a quick break or try to just run some errands locally to “test the waters”. This gives substitute caregivers the chance to come up with any questions and you and your loved one the chance to get comfortable with the situation (or realize something that needs to be changed). Regular respite can be a good idea for you to keep revitalized as a caregiver, but also to help you and your loved one build a relationship with a care team. We’ve found this to be a great solution for families. We have worked with many over the years where we help out regularly so that they can enjoy their breaks with someone they know and trust is in place to manage things.

You can get more great tips from EasyLiving’s “What is Respite Care?” post (including a checklist you can use to set up and prepare for respite care). Contact our Senior Care Consultant to set up respite care, hire a care manager to help organize and oversee your break and for any eldercare concerns or questions.

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What Can You Do To Ensure a Safe Hospital Discharge for Elderly Loved Ones?

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As our previous blog post points out, the hospital discharge process is a key transition time. Without proper support and resources as well as good understanding of follow up instructions, many individuals will return to the hospital for reasons that could have been avoided. No one wants this, and it can be especially dangerous for elders and persons with chronic conditions.

If you are a family caregiver and an elderly loved one is hospitalized what can you do to ensure a safe transition after the hospital stay?

Consider the discharge process as beginning at the start of the hospital stay. Find out who is responsible for discharge planning and introduce yourself, explaining that you will be involved and giving relevant information about the patient’s living situation, supports and concerns. Discharge may not seem like a top concern at the beginning of a hospital stay, but with shorter hospital stay lengths, good groundwork starts as soon as possible.

Keep good records. An online personal medical record system is an ideal way to manage your loved one’s health history, medications, and store key contacts so this information can be readily available. You can also use a notebook or file to store the information, as long as you have it available and provide good information to new providers. Make sure you communicate information that is vital to your loved one’s health, such as medications that really should not be changed or typical complications or concerns that arise during hospitalization or procedures.

Get to know the medical staff and check in about what is going on throughout the stay. Ask questions (and keep records as per above) about procedures, tests, expected outcomes, medications.

Understand that you or a designated patient advocate will need to take charge in being the centralized hub of information. This includes ensuring you understand instructions, what will happen after discharge, and the functional status of the person (and therefore what support might be needed). Ask questions and anticipate concerns that might arise and do not hesitate to voice them.

Consider using a professional patient advocate for consulting or assessment during this process. Aging Wisely’s Care Managers know the discharge process, use a systematic approach and can help families anticipate needs and find resources to help. If you are caregiving from a distance, this support is vital as it is very difficult to manage the discharge process from afar.

Plan for the immediate transition time. The first day or two after discharge can be particularly problematic. Think about practical issues such as getting new medications, food and personal items while needing to attend to a person in a weakened state. Will you be able to help the patient from bed to bathroom? Services such as Medicare home health care and medical equipment rarely arrive immediately and are not meant to fulfill “custodial” needs, so you may need additional home caregiver support.

Find out about the options for services and rehabilitation after the hospital stay. There are essentially three rehabilitation options: inpatient (i.e. at a skilled nursing facility/rehabilitation center), home health care (for someone who is considered homebound) and outpatient rehabilitation (going to a clinic or center to receive therapy). We will cover these in more depth in a future post, including the insurance ins and outs & we invite you to contact us if you have immediate questions.

Ask for thorough discharge instructions in laymen’s terms and explain that you would like to be there when they are reviewed with the patient. Make a list of questions and help ensure you and your loved one are clear on instructions and who to contact if there is a problem later. Here is one example of a simple discharge form that you can provide if the hospital does not have one.

Know your patient’s rights, including the option to appeal a discharge if additional planning needs to be done to ensure a safe discharge.

Our next blog post will contain a checklist of items to consider and ask about when preparing for your elderly family member’s discharge, as well as more on resources to help during the transition of care.

Contact us if you have immediate questions. Our Florida geriatric care managers serve as your professional patient advocate, providing caregiver support and consultation, as well as geriatric assessments and resources.

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