When you think of a toolkit, you probably envision everything you need to complete a job. If one or two tools are missing, it can delay or throw the rest of your project in disarray. As a caregiver, things will go more smoothly when you feel prepared and have the tools to meet your loved one’s needs. But with caregiving, there are always twists and turns despite your best preparation.
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A caregiver toolkit may look different for each person and must be adapted through time as circumstances change. The best toolkit will be comprehensive and efficient without being overwhelming. Caregiving is stressful enough, and a good caregiver tool kit should help prevent caregiver burnout.
The important things we list here are meant as a guide. You can add to or adjust this list as you need to. Start to put together your caregiver tool kit and notice how your caregiving, mental health, and attitude improve. When you are stress-free and more confident in your caregiving, your loved one will see as well.
Items to Include in a Caregiver Toolkit
The items to include in your caregiver toolkit are broad categories of support services and necessary documents. Suppose there are other family caregivers involved in the care. In that case, they should have input and access to portions of the toolkit.
How you do that is up to you, but online access is efficient and secure. Family members can access vital documents and update information as needed.
1. Advance directives
Advance directives are a critical part of your tool kit because they allow your loved one to designate a healthcare power of attorney and express their medical wishes. If you are the healthcare power of attorney, you have the legal authority to advocate for your loved one, a critical part of competent caregiving.
Every state has different forms, and some require a notary or witness. Start with advance directives and ensure that healthcare providers and family members have a copy once complete.
2. Caregiver resources
Caregiver resources are plentiful, and we list some of the ones we think will give you support and information. Caregiver organizations and programs assist you, so you don’t have to spend the time you don’t have to try to find answers to questions.
Chat rooms, caregiver support groups, and blogs provide hands-on tips and coping strategies. Caregiving can be isolating, and having a community of other caregivers can help you feel less alone.
3. Home accessibility assessment
Home accessibility should be part of your caregiver tool kit for many reasons, but an important one is to minimize the risk of falls. An occupational therapist or a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) can perform home accessibility and do a safety check. They can make recommendations for current and future needs that might entail installing grab bars, a walk-in shower, or a glider chair for stairs.
4. Financial planning
Financial planning involves evaluating your loved one’s financial situation, future care needs, and how to pay for care. Even as the primary caregiver, there will be costs eventually. Medicare doesn’t pay for assisted living or home care, only medical home health. As part of financial planning, your loved one should appoint a financial power of attorney if they need help managing finances and paying bills.
5. Medical information
Medical information fluctuates. So, find a platform or way to keep medical information updated. This includes all medications, dosages and frequency, diagnoses, and the names and phone numbers of all medical providers. Don’t forget specialists and home health companies.
6. Scheduling app
A scheduling app will allow you and other family members to schedule visits and make notes. Otherwise, communication can get bogged down and complicated. The app you choose is up to you — some people like Google calendar, CaringBridge, Symple, or Slack for communication purposes among family members.
7. Emergency plan
An emergency plan should also include an emergency response system (ERS) like a pendant or watch with fall detection. If your loved one is at home, an emergency kit and a plan in the event of a natural disaster are important. Any senior living community will have an emergency plan. Find out what it is and how family members are contacted in the event of an evacuation or some other emergency.
8. Preferred activities
One of the undervalued aspects of caregiving is attending to the activities that your loved one enjoys. After caregiving for so long and focusing on the day-to-day required tasks, it is easy to forget that activities bring joy, improve mental health and increase energy.
Make a list of activities that your loved one likes. It could be music, movies, outings, reading, or anything else. Facilitating these activities will take some time but be well worth it.
Powerful Mental Health Tools for Caregivers
Mental health is a concern for caregivers. The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that 40-70% of caregivers have clinical depression. The stress of caregiving and the impact on your family and social life can create a situation where depression and anxiety are common. You can add mental health tools to your toolbox as a caregiver to improve your mental health.
9. Mental health and well-being apps
The good news about mental health and well-being apps is that many can choose from. That is the bad news as well since the choices can be overwhelming. To start, think about what you need- is it something uplifting or a tool to help you stay calm and overcome your anxiety. Some apps do both, and many focus on being more mindful and practicing meditation.
Music soothes the soul and can uplift the spirit. Platforms like Spotify and Pandora make it easy to plug in wherever you are and listen to the music you need for the moment. Music is also just as powerful a tool for the person you are caring for as it is for you.
Laughter has healing benefits. It can improve your immune system, decrease stress and improve your mood. Humor may seem in short supply when you are a caregiver, but you can bring humor into your life, leading to laughter. Movies and podcasts are obvious methods, but your attitude can also help. Some things are too serious to laugh at, but you may find humor in everyday things if you look.
You may have some reservations about counseling, but working with a qualified therapist can allow you to learn coping skills and express your feelings. Caregiver counseling is being offered more and more by therapists to assist the increasing numbers of caregivers who need support. Check with your insurance company to see who is covered.
Many therapists accept private pay as well if you can afford it. Virtual therapy sessions are the norm now, so you don’t have to leave home.
Gratitude is being thankful and appreciating people and experiences in your life. It is sometimes easier to see the glass half empty when you are a caregiver. When you focus on looking for the positive things in your life and taking a moment to reflect on those, your attitude will improve.
Many people find it helpful to write down the things they are grateful for daily. By keeping a gratitude journal, you center your attention on the positive aspects of your life.
14. Self-care plan
Having a self-care plan increases the likelihood you will adhere to it. There are several different ways to develop a self-care plan. Since time is usually the biggest challenge in practicing self-care, it is an excellent idea to preschedule your self-care.
Compile a list of what helps you relax and re-energize, then put it on your calendar like you would for any other appointment. Ideas include exercise, meditation, yoga, calling friends, or spending quality time with your spouse or partner. Taking care of yourself requires effort and attention, but once you get in the habit, you will improve your mental and physical health.
15. Letting go
Caregiving is a stressful and time-consuming job. It’s as if the more you do, the more there is to do. Caregiving can consume you if you aren’t mindful of the toll it takes. Part of letting go is to realize you can’t do it all.
Look to other family members and professional services to help relieve the burden. And, it is much easier to let go if you have a care plan in place where you have discussed future care plans with your loved one and the rest of the family.
Caregiver Tool Kit
A caregiver tool kit is a flexible group of support strategies, documents, and ideas to help you be the best and healthiest caregiver you can be. Compile your toolkit, and make changes as necessary to feel prepared and confident for your caregiving journey.