With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, there has been a lot more freedom of movement across borders. Now, with more foreign domestic helpers being allowed into Singapore to work, we can expect more flexibility in hiring or changing helpers. Moreover, many domestic helpers are taking time off to go back home to visit their loved ones as well. This can affect us if we rely on our helper to care for a loved one with a mobility issue at home. How can we better prepare for caring for our loved ones when our helpers are away on their well-deserved break, or while waiting for the next helper to arrive?
Before you start caring for your loved one
Knowing your loved one, their daily habits, and also knowing yourself, will better help you make preparations for care ahead. For individuals with mobility issues, there are various factors to take into consideration with getting about their day-to-day lives. For example, going to the restroom may mean needing a grip handle bar installed at the sides of the toilet wall so that the person could use it for support while easing down on the toilet bowl. Using what your loved one needs on a daily basis will help you to prepare for them, and also for any additional changes you will need to make.
Understand your loved one’s daily schedule in detail
Knowing your loved one’s schedule will help in planning ahead. If you break down their daily routine, what medication do they need to take, and when? What are the timings for his or her meal times? All this information can help you to prepare ahead before the timings. Not understanding or following a daily schedule leads to unpredictability for your loved one, and they may get frustrated not knowing what’s next. Moreover, not being well prepared means your loved one may have to be put in uncomfortable positions or situations for longer, adding on to their discomfort. For example, if you do not know how to make preparations for your loved one to go outside for his or her daily walk, he or she would have to wait for you to figure out which mobility device to choose, and also how to get the mobility device out of the door.
Find out more about your loved one’s daily routines by asking your helper or loved one for their daily routine, and writing it out in detail. You could also ask your helper what preparations she found helpful to make in some of the more elaborate routines, like showering for example (Did she need to prepare some slippers? Where did she place the clothing while your loved one was bathing?).
Plan what you have to do in advance
Having a plan helps to take off the mental load of remembering what are the next steps in the routine, or how to do bed transfers well for example. When you plan what you have to do next, you also are more calm and more sure of what to do next, which could provide a sense of security for your loved one and help them be more confident in you as well. This helps them to also cope with the transition of having to deal with changes in the main caregiver while their helper is away.
Besides a handwritten plan, you can consider planning your environmental setup as well. You could put posters of how to help with showering on the wall outside the bathroom or even take videos of how to help your loved ones with the house as a visual guide for yourself. You could also use technology to help set reminders on what task to do, so your phone becomes your digital assistant to get about your loved ones’ day and your own.
Get other family members to help you
It can be overwhelming to take over all the caregiving duties for your loved one all at once. If there are other family members around, you could approach them to help out if they are open to it. It could be in other forms of help such as doing household chores or taking care of the children even. That way, you can minimize the strain on caregiving. Remember that many hands make light work, so ask for help if it’s possible, and when you need to.
Be mentally prepared
Besides preparing practically what needs to be done, oftentimes we forget about being mentally prepared for what is to come as well. When we make preparations to get ready to care for our loved ones, we may unintentionally underestimate its emotional or mental impact on us. It is an additional duty on top of our day-to-day tasks, and this could add more stress. Moreover, having to deal with your loved one more frequently would mean you would have to deal with understanding their moods and feelings as well. So, remember to take time out for yourself so you have space for reflection and rest.
Figure out what you can and cannot do
Knowing realistically what you can provide for, and what is not within your means is a key factor to a good caregiving relationship with your loved one. Set expectations with your loved one and the people around them. That way, it prevents mismatched expectations from being a cause of conflict and tension between you and your loved ones. Perhaps a good way to figure out what you can and cannot do would be to refer to your loved one’s schedule and pick out the tasks you know you will need support with. Also, if you have other roles such as being a parent or being an employee, you can figure out what you would need to do in those roles as well, such as needing time to spend with your child or needing to go to the office during the day.
It may be more reasonable or realistic to outsource some of the help required if need be, to caregiving services or other family members. Homage offers by-the-hour care packages to consider for caring for your loved one while you are unavailable.
Giving care when your domestic helper is away
Now that you have planned for the care of your loved one while waiting for your helper to arrive or come back, here are some practical tips to help in providing care to your loved one with mobility issues.
Stick to your loved one’s daily routine
Routines help to provide structure and predictability. For your loved one, this would help in creating a sense of certainty while pending your helper’s arrival. Start the day the same way, and end the day the same way. Ensure that your meal time, shower time, and outdoor time routines are at the same time daily. If it helps, you can put a copy of the routine on the refrigerator or somewhere visible so you can keep track of what is next to come.
Another tip would be to set up the environment to help you remember the next step of their routines. For example, for bath time, you could place a towel and set of clothes near the bathroom entrance so it creates a visual reminder for bath time.
Ensure the environment is set up to support your loved one well
A cluttered environment can pose a hazard to someone with mobility issues. Not just a cluttered environment, but the everyday environment we are so used to can be difficult for a person with mobility difficulties to navigate. Do a safety check of the house and ensure that your loved one can move around with little to no support needed. Some tripping hazards to look out for would be:
- Loose wires and cables
- Small items scattered on the floor
- Sharp corners and edges of furniture
- Furniture which are too low or too high for your loved one to access
- Mobility devices are easily accessible for your loved one
- Nightlights and motion sensors set up as required, especially for nighttime use
- No loose assistive equipment e.g. if there is a toilet rail, it mustn’t be shaky
Participate in activities together
Research shows that seniors who participate in hobbies and social and leisure activities may be at lower risk for some health problems than others. Social isolation, especially for older folks who are less mobile, can be quite real. If they are not able to get out of the house with ease, chances are they are less likely to go out and meet others or participate in community activities. Encourage a healthy lifestyle, physically and mentally, with your loved one by doing things together – why not go for an old-school game of chapteh, which is a traditional game involving kicking about a bunch of weighted feathers bound together? Otherwise, you can play card games like Old Maid and Blackjack in the comfort of home with your loved one. Besides providing some much-needed company, you help to provide some cognitive stimulation as well.
If your loved one is not very keen on games, bringing them out to the nearby park or neighbourhood areas for a walk can help as well. They get to see the surrounding sights and smells, and also can stop by for some small talk at the coffee shop over a cup of kopi with the vendors or other people as well. This however may involve more planning and help, so be sure to prepare in advance if you think going out for a walk may be a good idea.
Take time out for yourself
Source: Mt. Alvernia Hospital
In the flurry of caring for others, as caregivers, we can forget that we are individuals who need to care for ourselves as well. Taking over someone’s schedule, helping with their daily needs, can be overwhelming all at once. You may feel like you have to keep going and keep doing, but what may be more helpful would be to slow down, hit the pause button, and take a break. It has been shown in numerous studies that the demands of caregiving can cause stress, and even mental illnesses if left untreated for. The worst thing you could do for your loved one would be to be unable to function, as some mental illnesses can leave you be. Take preventive actions against caregiver burnout by managing your expectations, ensuring you have adequate down time scheduled, and if it’s helpful, getting external help to step in to take over care duties for a moment while you get a breather.
Plan for respite care
Caregiver burnout is real. If all else fails, and you are at the brink of your rope, consider planning for respite care to take over caregiving duties. Homage offers respite care services for tired caregivers and their care recipients, to alleviate the load of caregiving for a short period of time. Though it can be a tough decision to make for some, planning respite care does not mean you are weak nor does it mean you do not care. There are days where we simply have to accept the help of others, so we can serve our loved ones better after recharging and resting. This would mean financial costs though, so you will have to think about whether this is a feasible option for you.
Homage provides a comprehensive suite of home care services by trained medical professionals, from nursing and medical services to rehabilitation and palliative care. While not all of them are MediSave-claimable, there are a slew of financial subsidies available for caregivers and care recipients to make home care affordable and accessible to all.
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