The Booming Caregiver Generation
With seniors making up the fastest-growing age group in Canada, millions of adult children are faced with caring for aging parents.
It’s one of the hardest facts of life. As you get older, so do your parents. The people that gave up so much to care for you are now turning to you for help. But where do you start? How do you give them the support that they need — coping with chronic conditions and multiple medications, while at the same time balancing your own already busy schedule?
According to Pat Irwin, founder of ElderCareCanada and expert in assisting adult children in caring for aging parents, the key to successful caregiving is being prepared.
“The role of caregiver can be incredibly stressful at first,” explains Irwin. “In addition to being financially and physically draining, most people are caught off guard by how emotionally strenuous it is. Knowing what to expect and how to handle it, as well as being prepared and putting support in place for emergency situations, can help alleviate a lot of the stress.”
Together with the MedicAlert Foundation Canada, Irwin has developed tips for caregivers coping with multiple health conditions, multiple medications and parents that are no longer able to manage their own healthcare.
Managing multiple conditions and medications
One-in-three seniors live with more than one chronic condition and it’s typical that they are on multiple medications. Missing, mixing up and wrongly combining these medications could lead to dire consequences.
Given that 10% of emergency room visits are due to errors in taking medications, it’s critical that your parents thoroughly understand their medication.
If your parent is having difficulties with their medication schedule — make sure they have a MedicAlert membership and keep the information on file up-to-date. In case of emergency, MedicAlert can provide paramedics with medication details.
Try to use the same pharmacy for all prescriptions so that the pharmacist can check for contradictions between drugs — and ask if the pharmacy can deliver medication in pre-filled blister packs marked with the timing of the doses.
Caring from a distance
“Caring for your loved ones from a distance is possible, but you will need help and support,” says Irwin. “Trying to contact your parent, fearing they are ill or in distress and alone is a frightening experience.”
Staying up-to-date on health conditions and medications from a distance is a big challenge. Add to this list monitoring financial and banking information, coordinating grocery deliveries, transportation and much more, and you’ve got your hands full. To assist you, identify an on-the-ground support system and service providers that you can trust. On-the-ground support systems can be found by simply searching online for your local social service providers who can then refer you to the best subsidized or private advisors and assistants.
While family and neighbours may be great sources of guidance and information it is important to also obtain an objective professional assessment for your parent. This should include a medical, cognitive and emotional assessment. Your local Alzheimer Society can help with this.
The MedicAlert Family Notification Service immediately calls family and emergency contacts once the hotline has been called. This will ensure that no matter how far away you are, you will be aware of any emergency that may occur. Make sure the emergency contact information is accurate and up-to-date on your parent’s file.
Ensure your family is prepared for emergencies by developing an ICE kit (In Case of Emergency) that can be placed in a convenient spot to grab when visiting the hospital. The ICE kit should include a list of all current conditions and medications, health card number, health insurance information and the MedicAlert wallet card that provides easy access to all this information.
Tips for caregivers from the Alzheimer Society of Canada
“1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia,” says Mary Schulz, Alzheimer Society of Canada. “People with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes lose the ability to recognize familiar places, to communicate or to remember their own name or address. They may leave home, become confused and get lost – which can be dangerous for them and worrisome for family and caregivers.”
When caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease it is important to learn as much as you can about the disease. Find out how Alzheimer’s disease can affect a person, what changes you can expect and how you can provide help and support to maintain the person’s independence and quality of life. Contact your local Alzheimer Society for useful information and resources or visit www.alzheimer.ca.
Maintain good communication with your parent by listening and responding to everything they say. To prevent confusion, call your parent or loved one by their name as much as possible. Also, ensure that you provide reassurance by touching them and showing affection.
As your loved one’s disease progresses you may find that they require help with daily tasks such as grooming, eating and dressing. You may find it difficult to juggle helping your loved one while ensuring they maintain their sense of independence. To prevent this from happening, give step-by-step instructions so they can contribute as much as possible to the task at hand.
Ensure that you have a plan in place for times when your parent may become lost or confused. Wearing a medical ID is a good way to make sure they have important information on them at all times.
About the MedicAlert Foundation Canada
MedicAlert Foundation Canada (MAFCA) is the largest membership-based registered charity in Canada. It is the leading provider of emergency medical information services. More than one million Canadians have been protected by their services. For over 50 years, its mission is to protect Canadians and save lives.
While there are a number of medical ID devices on the market, only MedicAlert is supported by a unique 24/7 emergency hotline service staffed with medical professionals ready to provide information and recognize conflicting treatments and medications that could put your care, or the care of your loved ones, at risk.
The Foundation’s services include electronic health records, a state-of-the-art secure database, a 24-hour emergency hotline for EMS personnel and customized identification products. Learn more about MedicAlert, how it works, and how you or a loved one can become a member at MedicAlert.ca or by calling 1-866-679-3166.
After caring for her elderly parents, Pat Irwin became frustrated with the lack of support and advice available for caregivers so she got busy, and in 1999 she founded ElderCareCanada, a consulting service assisting adult children in caring for aging parents. Pat Irwin’s specialty is effectively managing the family dynamic between seniors, their adult children and adult siblings.
ElderCareCanada builds on consulting and service-quality training in developing strategies with families so they can plan together to get things done, including in-home care, housing options, relocation assistance, absentee care management, and strategies for long-term care, estates, wills and funerals.
About Alzheimer’s Society of Canada
The Alzheimer Society is the leading nationwide health charity for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Active in more than 150 communities across Canada, the Society offers Help for Today through our programs and services for people living with dementia and Hope for Tomorrow… ® by funding research to find the cause and the cure.
For more information or to coordinate interviews contact:
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