Twelve New Year's Resolutions for the Desperate Caregiver

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Gerontologist and aging parent expert Cheryl Kuba offers desperate caregivers New Year's resolutions of hope and success.

For the majority of family caregivers who are at their wits end in the demanding role of caregiving, the New Year looks anything but 'happy.' Caregivers can successfully transition into 2007 with hope and success, according to gerontologist and aging parent expert Cheryl Kuba, by committing to twelve New Year's Resolutions. "To make this journey a success, and to keep harmony in the family, there has to be a solid plan going into the New Year. The master plan will work even better if the caregiver and care receiver discuss the potential outcomes."

Drawing on her expert knowledge, and from research conducted for her book, "Navigating the Journey of Aging Parents: What Care Receivers Want," Kuba suggests the following resolutions for family caregivers:

1.    Take control of your situation. Don't become a victim of caregiver stress. Set yourself up to be able to provide eldercare without despair.

2.    Take care of yourself. Keep current with your own doctors and dental appointments. Eat right and exercise; don't overindulge- in anything! Make it a priority to get enough sleep. This is the time when you need to be at the top of your game. A study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found that the stress and strain of caregiving could negatively affect your health, well-being, and ability to provide care. Throughout your journey, you will hear the safety message told to every airline passenger: "Put on you own oxygen mask first, before you assist an elderly person or a child." As a caregiver, you need to be aware of the first signs of stress. Don't wait until someone tells you to put on your oxygen mask!

3.    Delegate. Make a list of all the little errands that fall under your 'multi-tasking' umbrella. Now, pick four of those tasks, and give them away. Don't labor over them.

4.    Ask for help. You can't go down this road alone. Write down the names of six people who have offered to help in the past. Take them up on their offers. They meant it. They want to help.

5.    Don't argue. If you find yourself constantly battling with the person you care for, step back. Take a break. Arguing depletes your energy. You will create more harmony if you approach each situation with your saber at your side, instead of with your saber drawn.

6.    Give them a break. Remember, that your ailing parent is stuck in a body that is not cooperating. Their physical incapacity is usually the source of their aggravation.

7.    Don't knock the reruns of life. If your parent dwells on the past, and repeats the same story over, and over again, use it to your advantage. If they can't seem to accept the talent of today's star NFL quarterback, for example, ask them about football's most valuable player of 1956. I bet you'll hear a brand new story that your dad is more than willing to share.

8.    Have a plan for when you lose your job. That's right. Losing your caretaker job is a given. Although it seems like this caregiving role will never end, it will. Your parent will most likely not come back to independence. Chances are they will die on your watch. Be prepared. Suddenly, and without warning, you will have lots of time on your hands. Have a plan. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish when your job is over- hobbies, redecorating, a vacation, volunteering.

9.    Savor the silliness. When you are a frazzled, family caregiver, it is hard to believe that there is any silliness in your day. These little nuggets of joy explode when you least expect them. When a crazy situation presents itself where you laugh until you cry, whoop it up. Usually these turn into bonding moments with your parent. Take advantage of the moment. You will never know when you'll get another chance.

10.    Know how to manage your own financial situation. Whether you are supplementing your parent's care, or you are financially independent- pay attention to the money. Don't let the stress of caregiving undermine your ability to pay bills on time. If you start to mismanage your finances, ask for help. Talk with someone you trust. Get help before you venture down the road of financial ruin.

11.    Find your spiritual connection. Everyone has one. For some people, your source of spiritual connectedness is more difficult to unearth. Whether you pray, meditate, say a mantra, or believe in a God - keep up your belief. This job is larger than all of us. You need an outlet to exercise your faith, and a higher power in which to cast your soul.

12.    Remember your parents for who they really are. Don't file your parent's personality under "Frail Elder who needs Constant Attention." In the past months you have been dealing with a mom or a dad who has been in pain, and serious physical decline. Or, perhaps you have had to deal with hospitals and long term care issues that were beyond your comprehension. As these chapters of life come to a close, remember your dad as the vibrant, fun-loving man who could take on the world. Mentally rehearse the memories of your parent's best years.

We know you didn't voluntarily come into this role, but neither did your dependent family member. No one is dependent by choice. Take care of yourself, celebrate each moment, and 2007 will be a Happy New Year!

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CHERYL KUBA
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