If your parent is undergoing surgery or is experiencing a prolonged illness, you may find yourself in the role of temporary caregiver. Understanding what to expect during the caregiving period will help you prepare for this role.
Adult children are often pulled among responsibilities to their parents, their own spouses and children, and their jobs. While temporary caregiving can be an opportunity to show your love and concern, it can also be stressful and absorb a lot of your energy. You can minimize the stress with careful planning.
First, set aside some time to make a plan. Does your home need to be rearranged or altered to give care? Does your parent need psychological or physical preparation for their procedure? Do you need preparation?
Organize Your Home
Think first about the type of procedure being done and what the recovery period physically requires. Consult with your parent’s physician if necessary.
A number of surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements, require patients to use walkers as they heal. Does your home allow for walker access? Does your parent need to be accommodated on a specific level of the house to avoid stairs?
Many procedures require special equipment, such as a bathroom bar, a recliner or a lifting apparatus. Be sure to check on all these requirements, giving yourself plenty of time to order and receive special equipment, and, if necessary, to rearrange your home.
Second, make your home safe for your recovering and possibly weaker-than-usual parent. Stabilize or remove any area rugs that might cause them to slip and fall. Make plans for a resting and sleeping area close to a bathroom. Make sure that light is adequate for an older individual to see and easy for them to adjust.
Prepare the Patient
Prepare to help your parent manage anxiety. It is normal to feel some anxiety about any procedure, especially surgery. Acknowledge this as part of your preparation. It can be very helpful to research the procedure together.
If your parent is having knee surgery, for example, it can greatly reduce anxiety to know that over 600,000 people in the United States have knee surgery each year, and fewer than 2 percent have serious complications. To complement the numbers, understanding what happens before and during knee surgery — like if radiofrequency ablation (RFA) will help or what type of metal components will be used — could ease the concerns you and your loved one have about the overall process.
You should also prepare by establishing a good relationship with your local pharmacy. Decide where you will go for needed medications before the surgery, so there will be no delay in filling prescriptions after the procedure. Make sure you have a list of your parent’s existing medications so you can discuss possible drug interactions with the doctor and pharmacist.
Will your parent be able to drive after the procedure? If not, you or someone else will have to drive them to their follow-up appointments.
Also, discuss insurance and finances with your parent. You need to know if they have any concerns about medical bills and charges, as this can impact both stress and recovery.
This is also a good time to bring up living wills and powers of attorney. While the majority of operations are successful, every adult should have their wishes on file in a will.
Understand What to Expect
Many patients spring back from surgery as soon as they start to physically heal, but it’s wise to expect some issues to pop up.
Medical interventions can be complicated. Your mom or dad may just not feel well. The procedure may have made them very aware of their aging body. Stitches might be irritating. They may have difficulty sleeping. Being in unfamiliar surroundings may be stressful. If the procedure requires dietary restrictions, they may feel frustrated — especially if they aren’t allowed to have their favorite foods.
Deal with issues as they come up. Be compassionate to your parent and show you care about them.
- Acknowledge their feelings and frustrations.
- Use humor if appropriate.
- Emphasize incremental recovery.
- Discuss the future optimistically.
- Prepare the best meals you can within the indicated dietary requirements and eat the meal with your parent.
If they are having trouble sleeping, could a television, radio or computer provide entertainment late at night? Could the two of you play cards or another favorite game? If the unfamiliar environment is an irritant, could their space be enlivened with favorite pillows or decorations?
One good method to reduce stress for both you and your parent is to set up an online social network. Many older people adapt very well to social media once they see its benefits. Many social media sites like Facebook have groups for people who have particular conditions, such as joint replacements or diabetes. It can be helpful to read those stories.
There are social media sites for temporary caregivers as well. Set yourself up on one of these sites to obtain advice and support.
Temporarily providing care for your mom, dad or another relative can be a time to bond and show your love. But it can also be a challenging time. Prepare your home, your parent and yourself for the caregiving period and know what to expect, both physically and psychologically.
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