By: Jeff Anderson
New Year’s resolutions are profoundly personal and intensely optimistic. They require us to candidly appraise ourselves and our lives, and to recognize areas of weakness and aspects of ourselves that need improvement. After all, we can’t fix a problem that we don’t recognize. Resolutions also require us to believe in ourselves – to be optimists: The New Year’s resolution necessitates that we have faith in our will and our strength to follow through and accomplish our goals.
Family caregivers, which most of us are likely to become at some point in our lives, have a unique and demanding role and are likely to have their own special set of resolutions. You might have already resolved to lose weight, quit smoking, or to save for retirement, but have you made any resolutions to help you in your role as a caregiver?
Visualize a Better 2014
Whatever pledges you make to yourself, consider harnessing the power of visualization. Many psychologists and spiritual teachers believe that when you visualize your goals and imagine yourself successfully completing them, you are more likely to succeed. The book Karate of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit describes a well-known study that demonstrated that Olympic athletes who received training in visualization in addition to their physical training outperformed athletes who received physical training alone. Renowned author and psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Peterson, elaborated on the power of visualization in a recent article: “Vision creates a picture for the subconscious mind. Our subconscious is what makes us such good problem solvers compared to a computer. We can see 1,000 dimensions of a problem and sort it down to the most important very quickly.”
As you craft your resolutions, remember that you’re not obliged to make them public. While conventional wisdom says that a goal shared is a goal more likely to be fulfilled, research directly contradicts this assertion. Speaking at a Technology, Education and Design conference (or “TED Talk”), thinker and successful entrepreneur Derek Silver outlines research showing (quite persuasively) that those who talk about their ambitions could be less likely to complete them. Here are seven resolutions for you or a family caregiver in your life to consider:
1. Use New Time Management Tools
A common lament among caregivers (especially Sandwich Generation caregivers) is that there are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs be done. Caregivers can try new technologies to help manage their caregiving role. For example, a new app called CareZone (available on computers, tablets and smart phones) helps parents and family caregivers “organize files, contacts, and medications, and coordinate with family and other caregivers.” Other apps to help caregivers include Caregiver’s Touch, which has very similar features to the CareZone app, and Personal Caregiver, which can help caregiver’s keep track of their parents (and their own) meds. Ann Napoletan, who writes for the Caregiver’s Blog, told us about how helpful technology has been to her as a caregiver. “The best organizational tool for me, without a doubt, is my phone. If I were to lose it, I’d be lost! Every phone number, email address, appointment, and reminder is kept there along with Mom’s current medication list, shopping list, and to do list. I use a free app called Evernote to keep my lists synced on all my devices.”
2. Plan with Your Parents
It can be difficult for families and seniors to have discussions about plans for long-term-care or end-of-life care. Many people avoid these conversations because the topic can be awkward and emotionally wrenching. But these talks can’t be avoided forever, as aging and mortality cannot be escaped through denial. Make it a goal to overcome the awkwardness and start these tough conversations with your aging parents. For advice about how to start this conversation, and what questions to ask, read our post 10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents.
3. Get Your Loved One’s Documents in Order
Use 2014 as an opportunity to get your parent’s must-have documents (i.e. marriage certificates, living wills, military records, etc.) in order. You never know when they’ll be needed, but you almost certainly will need them at some point. Procrastination will only make it worse, whereas you’ll find a calming peace of mind knowing that you have essential documents in order. Use our Essential Document Locatorto make this daunting process easier.
4. Educate Yourself about Long-Term Care Costs
Many Americans fail to plan for, or underestimate, the cost of long-term care for themselves and their loved ones. Often times this failure is due to simple mistakes and misconceptions. Take time to educate yourself about the costs associated with long-term care using our Cost of Care Calculator and learn what insurance covers what care so that you aren’t stuck having to sort it out during an emergency. For example, it should be understood the Medicare is not long-term care insurance and won’t help cover the costs of long-term placement at a nursing home or assisted living community. Remember, as you plan, that the cost of care today is not the cost of care 10 years from now. Long-term care costs are growing above the rate of inflation. If you’re unsure whether your family is financially prepared for an older loved one’s long-term care needs, consider speaking with a professional financial planner.
5. Help Your Parent Eat Well
A stunning 3.7 million seniors were diagnosed with malnutrition during 2012 according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Seniors who are having difficulty cooking or shopping, or who have bad eating habits, are especially at risk. Learn about the unique nutritional needs of seniors and ways you can help older loved eat well and enjoy it. This is another area where technology might be able to give you a leg up. If your loved one has a smartphone or an iPad, put the free app MyNetDiaryon the device. Or if you are in charge of your parent’s diet, put it on your own device. It allows you to track all aspects of you or your loved one’s diet. MyNetDiary also has special versions designed specifically to help people with diabetes or heart disease eat appropriately.
Visit a Senior Community for a Lunch or Activity
Even if you’re not sure a move is on the horizon or if your loved one has no intentions to move, take some time to visit a senior community with your parent. Try to make it a relaxing visit to get you and your loved one’s “toes wet” so to speak. These visits can be genuinely pleasant if you make a point of going to see an interesting event or for a meal. Also, if your parent does one day move to a community, you will see that these preliminary visits that you made months or even years in advance of any particular need visits helped to make your loved one more comfortable and at home when a need finally did arise.
7. Get to Know Your Parent Better
Indulge your parents’ sense of nostalgia and listen to them tell some weird or wonderful stories about themselves and the history of your family. Even when we’re very close to a loved one, there’s always room to know them better. We recently posted 25 great questions to ask older loved ones about their lives that are sure to prompt some interesting responses. Think about recording your parent, or using other means to preserve memories of your loved one for future generations. Don’t let Alzheimer’s or dementia keep you from spending quality time with your loved one. Memory loss often jams communication, but this roadblock can often be worked around by learning how to talk with a loved one who has dementia.
What are you resolutions for the New Year? What other changes should caregivers consider? We welcome your comments below.