picture of watch for time saving article on caregiving by christene klotz

Time Saving Tips for Caregivers

Providing care and support for a family member or other loved one takes time that you just might feel you don’t have all the time. You have your own life that is full, and frankly often feels too full. You want to spend time with your spouse or partner, and maybe you have children living with you too. The sandwich generation is a real thing.

People have been having children at later ages for a couple of decades so it is entirely possible that you have an aging parent who needs your help while you have teenagers who still need your time. And it is likely you have a job that demands many other hours in a week.

That doesn’t include friends, clubs, special interests or perhaps religious organizations you want to continue. So how do you do it all. Admittedly this is challenge and will become a more difficult one as your aging parent needs more help.

Here are nine ideas you can use to squeeze a bit more time out of your day.

Time Saving Tip One. Make a Schedule and Keep a “To-Do” List.

The more you organize your life the less time you will spend thinking about what you need to do next. Once a day, or once a week, review your plan. What are the tasks you need to complete and what things can wait until another day? Can you take care of errands in one trip instead of making multiple trips? A schedule means you are less likely to forget something and it will give you a better sense of the most efficient order of errands.

You might find making a paper list or noting things on your calendar helps. Some people add even very small tasks to their calendar. For example, a woman I know starts each day at work reviewing her day. She notes times during the day when she will return phone messages, times when she will have a conversation with a colleague about a project she is working on, times to write a draft letter, and so on. On a personal level this could include the time to call the pharmacy to renew prescriptions, time to start a meal, or time to pick up your mother to take her to get her hair cut.

If you prefer to use technology there are quite a few different smart-phone apps to help you manage your tasks and daily schedule. They can keep track of repeat events and due dates. The more you use these apps the more comfortable you will be. You can even set reminder messages and alarms.

Time Saving Tip Two. Use Technology to Help with Shopping.

Getting a bit more specific with how technology can help, there are not just apps that help you keep track of your “to-do” list. There are tech solutions that go a step further. Tech solutions can help you make sure your parent has medical supplies, groceries, and other things they need.

If you use a grocery app, for example, you can keep track of both the things you need in your home and the things your parent needs. It is easy to set up different lists. The things you purchase routinely can be stored in memory so they can be quickly added the next time they are needed.

Many of these solutions allow you to store the lists on-line – in the cloud – so others have access to the list. If others are helping keep a list of needs up to date, you don’t even have to stop by your parent’s house before you go to the store. And if others are helping with caregiving and you have shared access to the shopping list, someone else can pick up a quart of milk or whatever you have marked as needed.

You can separate lists and code them in a variety of ways. There is a lot of flexibility in these apps. Whatever you set up you will find that it is a lot faster and more complete than maintaining paper lists.

Time Saving Tip Three. Use Other On-Line and Delivery Services.

If you check with the pharmacy and grocery store you might find they provide shopping services.A grocery store employee uses your request and pulls together the items you need so you just have to stop by to pick them up. In some cases that even means home delivery. Grocery stores typically charge a fee for this but a fee that saves you making an extra trip to the store may be well worth it. Pharmacies more often provide this service to deliver medications but, who knows,they may include other items from their store if you ask.

Of course there are lots of other ways to shop online. It seems you can order just about anything these days to be delivered to your door.

In addition to shopping, you can handle other transactions on-line too. You can eliminate the need to process paper bills with paper checks by using the bill pay service of your parent’s bank. With bill pay services you log into the bank account and request payments or you can set up payments to occur on a scheduled basis. You can also use what is called ACH payments.

With ACH payments you authorize a company, like the utility company, to access your parent’s account to pay utility bills. To do this you complete a form and provide bank account information. When the bill is due the company makes an electronic transfer of the funds from the account to pay the bill. You don’t have to do anything.

Time Saving Tip Four. Organize Medical Supplies and Medications.

Most pharmacies will work with you to organize your parent’s medications. One thing they will often suggest is automatic refill orders so the refills are ready and waiting when needed. You can also work together to schedule refills to coordinate when medications are filled so there are fewer trips to pick up medications. When your parent takes medications that are expected to stay the same over time, you can simplify by requesting 90 day supplies. This can be arranged through the pharmacy or through a related mail order pharmacy. Your parent’s Medicare Part D coverage will tell you what pharmacy is preferred for this service.

To manage this you and your parent should start with a complete list of every medication she takes including both prescriptions drugs and over-the-counter medications and supplements. This list should include what is taken, when it is taken, and special instructions. Any necessary medical supplies can also be kept on this list. Keeping track of the list of medications and supplies will help you notice when something is running low.

Using pill sorters will save time as well as help ensure your parent is taking the medications they have in their care plan. The amount of time needed to open a pill bottle and take out a pill isn’t much but when most older adults take a dozen medications or more, these seconds add up. Some pharmacies will even put the pills into pill boxes for their customers.

Time Saving Tip Five. Plan Easy Meals with Left-Overs.

One task that comes up frequently is the need to prepare meals for yourself, your family and possibly for your parent. You can simplify this process.

When you prepare meals make more than you need. Store the left-overs for later in the week, put servings into the freezer or even take meals to your parent’s home.

Of course not every meal needs to be home-cooked. There are an amazing assortment of prepared foods available in the grocery store. Most full service grocery stores have a large prepared foods area. The frozen foods section typically has a large area devoted to frozen meals. Of course there is always pizza which takes up more and more space in most grocery stores. If your family or your parent have to watch salt levels you will need to be careful about prepared foods but in most cases even the occasional pizza is a welcome time saver.

One other option for meals is to consider home delivered meals for your parent. Your local Aging and Disabilities Office or Aging Office will either provide this service or know who does. Home-delivered meals will deliver a complete meal to your parent’s house typically five days a week. The meals just have to be heated up in a microwave.

Time Saving Tip Six. Ask for Help.

Think about all the people in your life and take note of the people in your parent’s life too. Talk it over with your parent and you will be likely to find there are friends and family members who could help you. Some might be willing to provide routine support while others might only be able to provide occasional help. Every small bit of help will save you time.

You can also check in with community organizations. Some religious organizations have outreach and volunteer programs designed to help congregation members in need. Other community organizations may have helpful services. Some of these organizations provide free services by volunteers while others might charge fees. If your parent is lucky enough to live in a place that has a member-to-member village model you might find a wide range of helpful support through their enrollment. Even something like a daily check-in service so you don’t have to worry about checking every day saves time and worry.

When you look for ways to enlist others to help you, think about planning for support for yourself too. You need time to do things that are important to you. You need time to recharge your emotional energy. This might just be time for you to take a nap or read a book, or it could be time to meet with a friend for lunch. If you are worn down by carrying the whole burden of your parent’s needs you will not be able to be the kind of daughter or son you want to be.

Asking for help is hard. But you may be surprised to learn how many people you and your parent knows will actually be happy to help. They just didn’t know how before you asked.

Time Saving Tip Seven. Look for Devices to Help.

As the population ages it seems the items to help make life easier are growing just as fast. There are numerous gadgets and adaptive devices around to make life easier. Some examples:

  • Grab bars and safety rails can make getting in and out of bed or taking a shower safer.
  • Elastic shoelaces can turn your parent’s shoes into slip-ons that can be handled without help.
  • Kitchen gadgets make it easier to open jars and bottles.
  • Specialty cushions help with supportive positioning.
  • The list is endless. If a task is difficult look around and see if you can find something that will make it easier.

If you can find ways for your parent to do tasks independently and safely, you both benefit. You will save time and your parent will regain more control and independence.

Monitoring devices include use of safety devices that let you know if your parent has fallen. The most common are called personal emergency response systems. Your parent wears a small button which can be pressed if she falls. Some of these are pendants, some are like small beepers that clip onto clothing and some are watches. Many of these systems have other features that monitor location or vital signs. Some work outside of the home and can even include wandering systems that add protection if your parent becomes confused or has memory loss. There are lots of things to consider because there are so many helpful devices.

Time Saving Tip Eight. Reduce Medical Appointments.

It is not uncommon for a medical appointment to end with the doctor saying, “Good. There are no changes in your parent’s condition in the past few months, so I want to see her again in three months.” You can ask why and argue for six months for the routine visit (unless you or your parent are concerned about something before then). You can ask what to watch for that would mean you should come in sooner. You may find that this will work just fine.

If your mother’s doctor uses online communication with patients you can ask about sending in information or perhaps calling the office nurse. Sometimes an in-person visit is not needed and you can avoid the time it takes to arrange all the details of an office visit in your life and hers.

You can also plan your time to include more than one appointment in a day. Some of the challenge is often helping your parent get ready and out the door. Once you are out you could take advantage of that, accomplish more than one thing, and save a second trip.

Time Saving Tip Nine. Shift to “It’s Good Enough.”

This is a hard challenge for some people. You want to do everything possible to help your parent be clean, comfortable and safe. So you may help with personal care, laundry and house cleaning. I have known people who believed the trash needed to be taken out every day, the dishes washed as soon as a meal is done, and laundry done as soon as a load accumulated, just to mention a few household tasks. If this describes you, perhaps it would be okay to relax a bit.

As an example, consider how often sheets and towels need to be changed and washed. Some people do this often washing bath towels after every use. There are two thoughts here. One is how often should your parent bathe. The second is how often should the towels be washed.

Bathing more frequently has many benefits from the positive sensations of feeling clean and frankly just smelling better. But frequent washing also removes oils from skin and can be hard on older skin. So perhaps waiting another day for a bath or shower would work.

And perhaps waiting another day to wash the towels also works. Some people only wash towels every couple of weeks. That may be too long but adding a day or two to your current practice reduces the frequency of a time consuming task.

The same goes for sheets. Health experts recommend washing sheets once a week, but to save time you might consider a day or two longer. Changing just a pillowcase more often might be a reasonable solution if the sheets haven’t become soiled.

These are just a few ideas to consider to help you find a few more minutes in the day. Once you gain this additional time there are many ways to use it. Hopefully one way, at least occasionally, is to just have a quiet time with your parent. With no demands, no pressure, just a time to spend sharing a moment.

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