Can you Prepare in Advance to be a Family Caregiver?

By Barbara Small

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Approximately 94,000 family caregivers of adults live in the Greater Victoria area and over one million in British Columbia. If you are not already providing care in some form to a parent, spouse, sibling or child, you likely will at some point in your life.

I couldn’t have predicted that both of my otherwise healthy parents would develop colon cancer within six months of each other, require care and pass away within two years following their diagnosis. Just as others could not predict a husband would have a stroke, a mother would be permanently disabled in a car accident or that an adult daughter would develop Multiple Sclerosis. Even if an illness runs in your family, you often don’t know when, or if, it will develop.

The need to provide care and support usually happens suddenly and unexpectedly. It may start slowly with accompanying someone to an appointment or taking over the grocery shopping. Alternately, it can happen in a split second, as in the case of a stroke or accident. Just like that, a completely new set of demands can be placed on an already busy person. It is common that most caregivers don’t let go of other demands to fit new duties into their schedules - they just juggle caregiving along with their job, spouse, children, friends and own health and well-being.

Here are a few steps caregivers can take to better prepare themselves and reduce the immediate burden.

  • Early communication between family members is essential to reduce stress and future conflict.
  • Be proactive and create a long-term care plan. What are your family member's wishes? Who will do the caregiving when the time comes?
  • Ensure financial and legal issues are taken care of in advance, including an Enduring Power of Attorney, Representation Agreement and Living Will.
  • Have automatic bill paying and direct deposit set-up in advance for things such as pension cheques and utility bills.
  • Do a safety check on the home to help prevent falls and other accidents. The November 2009 issue of the *Network News* newsletter available at includes an article on falls prevention strategies.
  • Ensure that an up-to-date list of doctors, lawyers, bank, pharmacists, insurance etc. is available and everyone knows its location.
  • Make caregiving a responsibility for the whole family – “share the care.” Certain family members will be better at certain tasks (personal care, financial, household chores).
  • Include everyone in the decision-making, respect each person’s needs and keep the lines of communication open.
  • If possible, learn as much as you can about your family member’s medical condition so you are more knowledgeable about what to expect and can prepare in advance.
  • Gather information about available community resources and supports for both you and the person for whom you will be caring.

Next month: Advocating for your family member.





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