2019 has not been very kind to me and some of my friends. I lost my mom on November 16 and it has been an emotionally draining time to say the least. But it has been so for the last few years.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and developed a brain metastasis in 2014. She underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery - numerous times - and was finally diagnosed with dementia too. Her health slowly deteriorated and I had to rush her to hospital numerous times a year.
Today though, I am at peace because I knew I had done the best that I could as a caregiver despite all that life threw my way. And this brings us to an important issue that needs to be addressed today.
According to the United Nations, the share of people aged 60 years and above is all set to increase to nearly 20 % of India's population by 2050. But how equipped are we today - as individuals and families - to look after their needs especially when they are ill.
There are many challenges a caregiver faces when they have an elderly person at home who needs round-the-clock attention.
Questions that affect a caregiver
When an elderly person is unwell at home, there are many dilemmas and challenges the immediate family faces. Which doctor should they see? What is the best course of treatment?
What is the long-term diagnosis and plan? Does insurance cover costs? Can they manage financially? Do they need help at home to care for the person?
What kind of person should they hire to care for them? How much time will the family have to spend with them and who takes what responsibility? Do you need counselling? Do you need help?
Get the diagnosis right
One of the most important aspects to looking after the elderly is ensuring you find the right doctor and/or specialist. Often, we go to a doctor who is close to our home or is known to the family.
But every disease or ailment in the elderly (and even otherwise) needs to be assessed by a specialist and it’s important to get the right diagnosis.
Once the doctor gives his/her diagnosis and sets the course of treatment, all other elements slowly fall into place. also make sure, you ask the doctor all the questions you want to. In the case of my mom, I even asked how long she had since I wanted to be prepared for all contingencies.
Don’t be afraid to ask and reach out to the doctor directly in case of any emergency or clarification you have at any point. My mom’s doctors were so good that they would reply to any mail or what’s app message I sent and that was a big support for me.
Do you have health insurance?
It is imperative to have insurance today given the gamut of illnesses and diseases we come across each day. While most of us instinctively take out health insurance for children, it is also important to take out health insurance for the elderly.
And the earlier it is done, the better. Find out what diseases are covered and what are not with numerous companies so you have a better idea of your requirements. Looking after the elderly does cause financial burden on the family and having health insurance for them, will be a big financial relief.
Don’t hire an ‘ayah’
When we need to give palliative care at home, we may think that we can just hire an ‘ayah’ to help look after the person. This, sadly, is not the right approach. Hiring an untrained and incompetent person can lead to disasters at home.
Depending on the health issues the person faces, you should look at hiring professional caretakers from agencies which provide premium healthcare services like Portea Medical. Portea Medical went above and beyond to help me with my mom and they provided great support.
Agencies provide nurses and trained attenders who are available to look after the needs of every type of patient today. While hiring them may cause a slight dent in your pocket, it would be one of the best decisions you make as the patient will be well looked after and give you more peace of mind and reduce your stress.
Here again, ensure you go to the right agency for such professionals as there are many out there that send untrained people.
Make time for yourself and your family
Being a caregiver is not easy. It takes a toll mentally, emotionally and physically. The caregiver has to be strong not just for himself/herself but for the family as well.
Thus, it is crucial that the caregiver takes care of themselves. Make time for yourself every day and do things that you enjoy as often as you can. It could be yoga, gym, dance classes, baking, and so on.
My joy in life is travel and I ensured that I travelled as much as I could. In fact, I went to Europe for a month this year as I had good care providers at home.
People often tend to feel guilty if they leave the patient at home and enjoy themselves. The point is life doesn’t stop for anyone and it’s important to have your own life in order to maintain your sanity. It helps one de-stress and lightens the weight you often feel. Every caregiver must, must, must make time for themselves.
Dealing with depression, loss and grief
My mom and I were very close and losing her is probably one of the hardest things in life I have to deal with. I often thought about life without her and at one point, felt I needed counselling to help me with this. I went through several counselling sessions just to understand how I could deal with loss and I am glad I did today.
In case you need counselling, then go for it. Some people may feel depressed or be very stressed, and counselling will help deal with such issues. It is not something to be ashamed of but will benefit you in more ways than you can imagine.