As the New Year approaches, it often brings a feeling of optimism. That’s a welcome gift, especially for those of us caring for the elderly.
To help maximize this optimism, we’ve gathered 13 New Year’s resolutions geared specifically toward caregivers.
Resolution 1: Write a personal mission statement for the year. Chicago-based author and senior caregiving expert Joy Loverde offers a way to plan for a positive year ahead. Loverde is the author of several books, including Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old? “At the end of every year I create a personal mission statement... that provides me with a path for success in my personal relationships,” she explains. With goals clearly stated, “I never have to wonder – Did I say I love you enough?” Set a few benchmarks for yourself and post them where you can see them for daily motivation.
Resolution 2: Learn to take a break. This definitely should be one of your New Year’s goals. The key word here is “learn.” People tell you every day you should take a break, but we all know it’s easier said than done. “Caregivers are known for putting their loved one’s needs above their own,” says Peter Ross, CEO of Senior Helpers in Towson, MD. “While the goal is to give your aging loved ones the best quality of life possible, you also need to understand the importance of taking care of yourself. Time-outs, yoga and getting ‘you time’ time in are great starters to creating work-life balance.”
Resolution 3: Get moving. Another priority goal: Activity. Keeping your body moving, blood circulating and muscles working is crucial to your own health, but you may not feel like you have time. Start with a commitment of 5 to 10 minutes and then increase that if you can. It doesn’t have to be all at once to bring benefits. It’s also a good way to engage more with aging loved ones. For example, Ross suggests creating a 3-day walking challenge. “Help them walk a few minutes each day, and increase the time daily – with a rest day every so often, of course!” This way, both of you gets some activity.
Resolution 4: Eat smart. Grabbing some grub on the run is no crime, but restaurant food (even fast food) can get expensive and isn’t always the best way to support your health and your family’s. Most major food magazines and websites feature recipes that take 30 minutes or less. And lots of grocery stores now offer online ordering, enabling you to schedule a pick-up or in some cases a home delivery.
Resolution 5: Be more social. “Social interaction is important for brain activity as well as morale,” Ross notes. Avoid caregiver isolation! In addition to seeing friends, engage in hobbies and other activities that you like – and don’t feel guilty about it! Get crafty about combining activities, like finding an art gallery, book talk or class you can attend during your parent’s weekly physical therapy appointment, or asking a friend to tag along while you’re running errands.
Resolution 6: Plan ahead. Caring for our parents often gives us an opportunity to consider our own desires for aging well. The New Year is a terrific time to jot down a few ideas about how and where you’d like to age, and then meet with your CPA, banker or financial planner to discuss what’s needed to get there. Also make sure you have the right legal documents to ensure your wishes are followed, such as durable and health care powers of attorney, wills, etc.
Resolution 7: Tackle stress. Stress has an enormous impact on our day to day quality of life, and our overall health. “Stress is like the monkey on our back, gripping your neck with its hands until you can’t breathe,” says Bobbe White, author of If Stress is Garbage, I’ve Bin There, Recycled That. That’s why it’s critical to reduce stress wherever possible. Even small things like 5 minutes of quiet breathing in your car every day, or subbing one yoga session for an exercise class helps take the edge off.
Resolution 8: Capture memories. One of the hardest things about losing a parent is wanting to hear some of their old stories or understanding family connections. This year, commit to sitting down with your older loved ones to get them to share your and their favorite memories. You may just take some notes, or you can make audio or video recordings using your cell phone. This is also a great way to get your kids engaged with their elders – young people are very adept at making excellent digital audio and video.
Resolution 9: Investigate options. Although it can feel uncomfortable, planning ahead for assisted living, long-term care and death makes going through those transitions easier for everyone. Resolve this year to investigate options for care and the monetary requirements for getting it. This includes understanding your parents’ desires and financial position, as well as your own.
Resolution 10: Increase safety for your parents. A recent study published in the Journal of Safety Research found that each year, “millions of people over 65 are treated in emergency rooms, with over 800,000 hospitalized for broken hips or head injuries, and 53% of those with fall-related hip fractures fall again within six months.” Whether your parents live independently or with you, make a point this year to learn about fall hazards, including medications and medical conditions. Then take steps to reducing the likelihood of a trip and tumble, like re-routing cables and cords and investigating a medical alert solution with fall detection.
Resolution 11: Get organized. This is another item that’s on everyone’s list of New Year’s resolutions, but it’s a good one, especially when you’re caring for aging parents. Make a short list of things that need better organization, like the kids’ homework zone, Mom’s closet or even the files on your computer. Then make a plan to complete at least one each month. If you’re not a master organizer, you probably have a friend who’s one. If you feel emotional about clearing up the clutter, you may need more structured assistance. “I see drawers and closets stuffed to the gills – and typically what is being kept is because [we] feel guilty about letting things go,” says Bill Bliesath, a professional organizer with offices in Los Angeles and Minneapolis. Someone who’s not close to you can often be more effective at helping you work through those feelings so you can make better decisions about what to keep, donate or toss.
Resolution 12: Create a family calendar. “It’s too easy to lose track of the multiple deadlines and requirements without a planner,” Bliesath notes. An old-school desk planner or calendar is useful, but online versions that reside in the cloud and are accessible from any device any time are even better. Most enable you to assign each person a color, and control access to editing. Most importantly, you can set up reminders so you don’t miss a thing. It’s also another way to get kids engaged. “Parents should be involved daily checking the planner and helping the kids keep it updated,” he adds. “Learning good planner use skills is an incredibly valuable life lesson.”
Resolution 13: Ask for and accept help. This may be the most important New Year’s resolution of all for caregivers. None of us likes to feel needy, so we frequently forgo asking for assistance. This year, resolve to lightening your emotional and physical load as much as possible. “Start accepting help from friends, family, neighbors, and professionals who are willing to pitch in and help with caregiving,” suggests Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, founder of Jenerations Health in Chester, MD, and author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One. And don’t be afraid to ask people for specific support, like picking up your kids at school or dropping off the dry cleaning. You might even consider a ride-haling service to ferry your parent or children from one appointment to another.
Following some or all of these resolutions will make life better for you and the person you’re caring for.