November 01, 2020
For National Family Caregivers Month, here are some helpful tools and resources.
Collaborative family caregiving requires a delicate balance of staying in touch without overstepping boundaries, being available without seeming pushy. The relationship with your older loved one suddenly requires more management and nurturing.
Introducing new technology offers simple and discreet options to increase engagement without forcing the interactions. When I became a family caretaker, my device turned into a communication command center to stay connected, manage healthcare and optimize self-care.
Here's dashboard of tech tools to help you navigate your role as caregiver.
Start the Conversation With Kindness
If it's time to add technology to your caregiving toolkit, take time to honor this passage into a new phase of life. Before you download the first app, address and acknowledge the changing dynamics of the relationship in question. Not every parent feels excited about "checking in" with their child or engaging with tech as part of their well-being. As you introduce new routines, set the intention of bringing the family closer and strengthening relationships through technology.
Put Safety First
Finding the right technology is an important step in staying confidently connected as a caretaker. Cox recently launched Homelife Care, a 24-hour medical alert system to help caregivers, families and friends support their loved ones, plus ensure their safety.
The service recognizes that many people make up a care team, so in case of an emergency, its app notifies up to five designated contacts. Cox care agents provide on-going status updates to all emergency contacts, serving as dispatch while your team assembles and responds.
The service also includes everyday features, such as a text check-in, to help your loved one feel autonomous. The app sends a daily push notification to ascertain general well-being, and forwards the response to assigned caregivers. This quick text check-in allows for daily engagement without hovering.
You can also turn the daily wellness check into a welcome daily ritual by injecting affection and fun. As you see the day's response, send an encouraging message, or share a moment from your life. This deepens your connection by making the interaction a two-way street.
Make Caregiving a Family Affair
The division of labor is critical during caregiving, for the well being of everyone involved. Consider establishing a collaborative model of care in which each member of the care team takes a month as the main point of contact. Keep everyone in the loop with a designated group calendar and shared notes. Typically used for work collaborations, cloud-based notes apps like Google Keep or Evernote can help manage appointments and any follow ups, house shared "to-do" lists and track on-going needs.
Engage Your Loved One
The fear of illness and loss can shut down lines of communication. People often report feeling awkward and unsure of what to discuss with an older family member, especially when someone experiences health issues. To help your loved one open up, create a communications plan outlining five to 10 topics that will engage them and that they can share with others. Use hashtags and Google news alerts to gather information about those topics, and then choose the preferred platform (does Grandma prefer Facebook, texts or emails?) to help nurture meaningful and personalized communications.
Capture Family Stories
While the conversation is getting deeper, take time to connect with the stories that make your family unique. It's easier than ever to document family stories with a loved one. Zoom, Google Meet and Skype, among other channels, allow you to record conversations with minimal plugins and a more relaxed interaction than with traditional recording equipment. Need a place to start? The Oral History Project, Story Corp, offers a Great Questions guide to unearth family lore and document the stories that otherwise may be lost. The bonus is recording your loved one's facial expressions for posterity — a treasure to savor for generations to come.
Set Little Reminders Everywhere
Being cared for can feel like an endless series of appointments with doctors and pill bottles. Add some levity — and love — to the digital calendar by sprinkling in encouragement, special memories and appreciation. For example, try programming a quick reminder every other Tuesday that simply says, "I love you, mom." Or use your calendar's "repeat event weekly" function to spread gratitude via random reminders throughout the month. Everyone loves a personalized push notification like, "Remember the time you took us to the Grand Canyon? Thanks for making such a precious memory!"
You can also use technology to help your loved one rediscover their interests. Downloading the OverDrive audio and e-book app helped my mom reconnect with her passion for reading and contemporary culture. While my mom didn't always feel well enough to read, she could lift her spirits by listening to literature. Losing herself in a good story became a source of daily joy and led to her becoming an avid reader again, while providing us with new conversation topics. As a member of Good Reads and other online reading groups, she felt more connected to herself and a community of like-minded new friends.
No matter which technology you apply, don't forget about the human touch. Push yourself to leverage the tech for maximum bonding and conversation. You might be surprised by how much support and connection you discover for yourself.