By Valerie R. Canino
I’m excited to share my caregiving journey with you all! Being an only child presents a unique set of circumstances as a caregiver. God put it on my heart to be transparent and share from the perspective of caregiving resources for those who may otherwise lack support.
My Caregiving Experience
Convincing my mom that she needed any assistance at all due to her memory and mobility issues was a journey. My mom has always been fiercely independent, traveled, and truly enjoyed her life! Being sensitive to the fact that my mom valued her independence allowed me to maintain a spirit of patience as we navigated such a major life change.
Being a caregiver to my mother as an only child also means being the sole decision-maker, with no siblings to share the burden. It also involves dealing with others who offer their unsolicited opinions (more on that later!). I learned that having a strong village in place can make all the difference. I have found comfort and support in my husband and friendships. Most importantly, I have learned to trust God and my gut instinct when making decisions.
Truly reflect on what caregiving plan works for YOU
In my experience, I find that decisions regarding aging parents are best made on a case-by-case basis. When considering the caregiving plan for my mom, I had to be honest about the fact that my home is not best equipped for her. We do not have a downstairs bedroom, which would be ideal for her mobility issues, my husband and I work full-time and my child is still in high school. For my sanity (and hers!), we decided that moving her to an independent care facility is what worked best for our family. We also remain flexible to change. Independent care may work for us today, but my mom’s condition within the next year can change that.
That decision may look different for you and your household. Be flexible with the fact that a decision you make today may look different than a decision you need to make a few months from now. These decisions can change based on changes in finances, lifestyle, and health. In-home care can look like an assisted living facility next year. A spare bedroom when a child moves into their first apartment can open up the possibility of in-home care. Give yourself the grace to make these adjustments.
The importance of downsizing and planning ahead
Downsizing was tough for us. My family lived in our Chicago home my entire childhood. After my dad passed, I had to make tough decisions on what that meant for my mom as she aged. Downsizing and selling a home that had been in my family for decades was very emotional for us. But little by little, we got it done.
The decisions we make as caregivers can be emotional, but we need to do what is best. Selling my family home ultimately allowed my mom to downsize while she was of sound mind. I urge other caregivers early on in their journey to do the same. Approach it gently and slowly, and pray for their acceptance. It will all come together!
Tune out outside opinions and do what’s best for you
You do not owe people an explanation of your family’s caregiving plan! Being an only child has taught me to be resolute in my decisions (also thanks to being raised by strong-minded parents). As a caregiver, you will get questions and unsolicited opinions from people. It is important to block out the noise and do what is best for you and your family.
I have been questioned on the decisions I have made for my mother’s care. My stance has always been that others are not in a position to dictate what is best for my household. Advice can be welcomed, but the decision on what is best is ultimately yours.
Take advantage of the resources available to you
I have to take a moment to reflect on the contributions of my father. He handled business and ensured my family was taken care of. When he passed away, he left my mom home with a fully paid mortgage and a pension. This allowed her to be in a position to cover her independent living facility costs.
I realize that I am blessed and speaking from a place of privilege, but as a social worker, I also understand the importance of taking advantage of your resources. I would love to share what I know with other caregivers. Note that these services are specific to the Chicago area. Your local city likely offers similar programs.
- If you need assistance with living expenses, look into a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) sponsored building. HUD-sponsored buildings cover the cost of rent based on income. SNAP benefits are also an option to cover food necessities. These are great resources for those who are challenged with a fixed income.
- Homemaking services are also a great option that includes an in-home needs assessment. This service can also include having someone come into their home 2-3 times per week to do light cleaning, prepare breakfast, and other tasks. This is a service that many seniors qualify for regardless of income limitations.
- Other options for seniors on a fixed income include LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), which assists with ensuring that seniors have essential utilities like lights and gas.
Know that there are always resources available to you.
The importance of advocacy for seniors
In my role as a Service Coordinator at a senior facility, I see some seniors that are blessed to have family members who advocate for their best care. However, I also find myself advocating for residents that are waiting an extended amount of time to receive resources.
Here are some tips to ensure that we are doing our part to advocate for seniors:
- Check in with your loved ones, even when they are perceived to be receiving the best care. If there are any concerns, do not be afraid to schedule a meeting with the staff to discuss your concerns.
- If you are concerned that a family member, friend, or even acquaintance is not receiving optimal care, connect them with a service coordinator or social worker like myself, and they will be happy to handle the rest.
- Schedule periodic reviews with the facility to ensure that logistics are running smoothly.
Prepare, but don’t obsess, about what comes next
Caregiving comes in various stages. I know that the day will come when my mom will need more hands-on care and I may need to move her into my home, or look at long-term care options. I would love to tell you that I know exactly how to navigate it, but I don’t. But I do know that I trust that God will give me the wisdom, resources, and village to handle anything that comes along.
Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/caregivers-corner/