Q. How can I balance caring for my ailing father, working as a school secretary and raising a teenage son? Looking after my father in his time of need is very rewarding, but I'm starting to feel overwhelmed.
A: The key to staying balanced is to recognize that effective caregiving is best done as a team, not single-handedly. Make a list of discrete tasks—like household chores, driving and paying bills — and invite family members, friends and neighbors to help in ways most suited to their individual temperaments. Spend some quality time with your son and ask how he might like to help out as well.
Next, check out the many services available to caregivers and seniors in your community. For example, respite care programs are designed to give family caregivers a well-deserved break. You can find support groups, counseling, training, practical resources and a range of senior services through your local Office for the Aging — visit http://aging.state.ny.us/
Lastly, taking care of yourself is not a luxury — it is essential to providing dependable caregiving. Be sure to eat well, exercise regularly, get sufficient sleep and have regular medical check-ups. Find healthy ways to express your feelings by connecting with friends, writing in a journal, or joining a support group. Every caregiver needs time for herself and with her family. Make special dates with your son when you can give him your undivided attention, set aside personal time with your spouse, and don't neglect your own need for downtime.
Q. How can I help my closest friend, who seems overwhelmed caring for her elderly parent? She never asks for help.
Many caregivers find it hard to ask for help. Try taking the initiative, while remaining sensitive to her cues. Offer to cook a meal once a week, run errands, make phone calls, pick up a movie or stay with her parent for an hour to spell her.
"We will all give and receive care during our lifetime," says Laurie Kupperstein of the NYSUT Social Services Department. "Caregiving is a gift from the heart and a learning process in which everyone grows — both the giver and the receiver. Our staff is available to work closely with you to minimize the stress of caregiving and to help you access the local services most attuned to your unique situation."