Shelley Webb is an award-winning blogger who specializes in senior care and social media. She has more than 30 years of experience as a registered nurse, RN case manager, geriatric care manager and caregiver to her father.
The founder of The Intentional Caregiver and president of The Eldercare Support Groups, Shelley has become a go-to source for educational materials, encouragement and successful strategies to help caregivers create an easier, less stressful and more rewarding role.
We recently checked in with Shelley to get her advice on how families can better prepare for caring for elderly loved ones. Here's what she had to say:
What is intentional caregiving? Why do you advocate for it?
I arrived at the term "intentional caregiving" after listening to a sermon by our pastor about being more intentional in life, not just sitting back watching life happen but by doing things intentionally. I realized that fit very well with the caregiving role because if we are intentional about learning about the disease process of our loved one, about planning for future needs, about having "the talk" before it's necessary, caregiving becomes much easier and more effective.
What happens when families and caregivers aren't intentional about their approach to care?
When we're not intentional, we set ourselves up for crisis conditions. For instance, all of a sudden, Mom needs placement in a facility and we now don't have time to research best options and have to settle for what is available at the time. Or, the family hasn't discussed end-of-life planning and after the loved one dies, the family is left scrambling trying to figure out what to do.
What does intentional caregiving look like in a family setting? Can you share a story about a family that approached care by the methods you prescribe?
The family that practices intentional caregiving has had a family meeting (which might even involve an eldercare mediator or geriatric care manager) and has made a plan of action that all or at least most of the family (including the senior) can agree on. They have begun to research independent living, assisted living and nursing homes to determine which placement will be best and at what stage. A family communication system has been set up so that all members are kept aware of the situation and can share in the care.
When should families start creating a strategy for the care of an elderly loved one?
The earlier the better. The more decisions that can be made ahead of time, the less potential for a crisis exists.
What considerations should they make in creating that strategy?
Diagnosis is a consideration because those elders who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease or another type of dementia will need a memory care component in addition to a physical care component. In the early stages, they may be able to live at home but may still require safety measures to keep them from wandering or to find them if they should wander.
Other considerations are the ability of family members to provide care, the type of insurance available, financial resources, the proximity of extended family and the elder's desires.
What are the most common factors families overlook when it comes to creating long-term care solutions for their loved ones?
I think that's a very extensive list. No one likes to talk about the sunset years of our lives and so instead, we plan too little too late. We are often not in close proximity to our parents and are shocked to find everything in disarray when we make that once a year visit. Parents and spouses hide facts about decreasing mobility, "forgetfulness", bad nutritional habits, etc.
What are your favorite resources for family caregivers?
The local Area Agency on Aging is my favorite resource. They are a wealth of information about local resources and are often up-to-date on new resources being offered. For families with a relative who has dementia, the Alzheimer's Association is absolutely essential. They have support groups, educational seminars, technology assistance products and more.
What are the biggest lessons about being a family caregiver that you've learned in your own life?
Take each day a step at a time. It's a difficult experience but one that leaves you filled with gratitude that you had the opportunity to experience. Take time to listen to the family stories and document them. They are treasures you can't recover easily.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to caregivers over and over?
Everyone always tells caregivers to care for themselves first. That's difficult but it absolutely must be done, even if there seems to be no time, even if the person you are caring for doesn't want anyone else in the house, doesn't like to be left behind or any number of excuses. You must care for yourself or you won't survive the experience.If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.