Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Family Teamwork = Better Caregiving

Part 2

Author's Note: This series of posts was written in alliance with Carebuzz, a site that offers resources for caregivers. Please visit their site at http://carebuzz.com.

In the first post in this series we discussed building a high performing family team by keeping the information and conversation going to better serve the loved one. Here’s another recommendation for family caregivers on how to build a supportive team.

Whether in the workplace or in the family, use all the resources at hand. It’s important that family members discuss how to share responsibilities to achieve a common goal of providing the best care. Too often one person tries to do it all, quickly becomes overwhelmed, and then resents that no one else pitches in to help.

Because of geography, skills or financial resources, caregiving usually falls to one or two family members, and the rest are left to wonder what’s going on and why they’re out of the loop. They may want to help but don’t know how and hesitate to offer their services. The primary caregiver may be too stressed out to think about how to divide up the work or simply doesn’t want to ask others for help.

Neither the care recipient nor the family members benefits from one person taking on all the work. Think about a football team; each player or group of players has a different role, and all the roles need to work together effectively for the team to win consistently. The quarterback may call the plays, but if he tries to do everything himself, disaster follows.

In my own family experience, others have helped with everything from researching the medical condition or facility to supplying “insider” medical knowledge, doing laundry, running errands and pet sitting. Everyone has a talent that can help in sharing the load and making caregiving a more pleasant experience for all. Those at a distance from the care recipient can still accomplish a lot via the internet, phone or library. Those who can’t contribute financially can help with household chores or other work.

And remember that, in many cases, the care recipient also has gifts to offer to the family team. If they are still able to do things such as writing notes or making phone calls, those small tasks help keep them connected to others. When my mother was in a nursing facility, she insisted on filling out her own menus; it saved us time and helped her feel useful. The most effective teams use everyone’s strengths to the best advantage.

What has been your experience with using all the talents in your family to provide better care?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Family Teamwork = Better Caregiving

Part 1

Author's Note: This series of posts was written in alliance with Carebuzz, a site that offers resources for caregivers. Please visit their site at: http://carebuzz.com

When helping mom and dad, siblings often face issues such as coordinating their medical appointment schedule, home care and health crises. Applying “team building” concepts to family caregiving can ease stress and greatly improve a loved one’s care.

In this series of posts, we’ll explore the major keys to building a high performing family caregiving team.

The first key is communication. Lack of it often trips up the family team and prevents the best care. Usually one person in the family is the primary caregiver and is often overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done. He or she simply does not have the time to keep all family members updated.

Absence of communication then sets up a situation where others make incorrect assumptions about the family member’s condition or the caregiver’s intentions. We have all seen what happens when people make assumptions, don’t bother to check if they’re correct, and then act on them.

Pretty soon you have a lot of needless worrying, finger pointing and anger that tends to get worse as time goes on. Some family members may completely withdraw from any caregiving responsibilities; others will form “cliques” within the family and criticize the main caregiver or other family members. None of these behaviors contributes to improved care.

In many situations siblings do not have a plan for keeping each other up to date. Because everyone doesn’t have the same information, they disagree on what constitutes “best care” for parents and experience dysfunctional behavior. So what can families do to prevent that from happening and improve communication?

It’s a good idea for family members to agree, ideally when the caregiving begins, on a means of communicating, the items to be communicated, and frequency. If family members are comfortable using the internet, there are great sites such as CaringBridge and GenerationsUnite where they can set up a page to update everyone. Family members can reply, ask questions, send greetings, suggestions and offers of help. Even Facebook and Twitter can be used to keep the information flowing, although privacy concerns must be addressed on public sites.

A less high tech method is for the primary caregiver to phone a designated family member at regular intervals or during a medical crisis, and have that designated person then call everyone else or set up a phone tree to complete the calls. The phone call method is simple and has worked well for my husband’s large family. Whatever the method, the goal is to continue the conversation with each other. In a later post, we’ll look at how to handle conflict when it occurs—and it will.

What communication tools do you use to enhance family teamwork?