As a speech therapist, I often wear many hats with my patients. Sometimes I’m an advocate, often I’m a cheerleader and frequently I play the role of family counselor. Many caregivers never expected to be put in their position, until they were. Traumatic events such as having a stroke or car accident can change the course of one’s life drastically and the significant other or closest family member immediately becomes the caregiver. Here are some things that can be done to help prepare the caregiver for the challenges ahead:
- Get therapy in your home: You can get physical, occupational and speech therapy services in your home under Medicare Part A or B benefits and most insurance plans. In times such as Covid, this is actually a better way to manage how much exposure your loved one gets to possible viruses than going into an outpatient center where many people throughout the day visit. By having therapy come to you there is no stress of dealing with traffic and wait times. This can also give you more “me” time as the therapist is working with your loved one.
- Therapies you should consider: Physical therapy can not only help get your loved one stronger and healthier, they can also help create a safer environment by assessing your home and offering recommendations that will minimize falls for your loved one. Occupational therapy is great for improving range of motion and the more fine motor skills that are needed for daily activities such as getting dressed or self-feeding. They are great problem solvers for adapting your home to maximize independence for your loved one and often great resources for finding helpful adaptive equipment. Not many people know this, but a speech therapist is trained to both rehabilitate and manage cognitive deficits (impaired mental abilities). I’ve worked with many patients that have neurological problems such as dementia, autism, and strokes to name a few. We start with testing primary areas of cognition, such as memory, attention and problem solving/reasoning abilities as well as problematic behaviors. We address the behavior issues with the family in their plan of care to either significantly reduce the occurrences or eliminate altogether. We also work to improve upon their diminished skills to increase independence and safety in the home.
- Take a break: There are many ways you can get some “me” time and still be a full time caregiver. Ask family or friends for help. Even if it’s just for 2 hours once a week. Any time you can give yourself for self-care will ultimately benefit your loved one. Another way is by trying an adult day care center or using a caregiver service where the help comes to you. Check to see if your insurance covers some or all of this. As well, there are many nursing homes that will admit people for just a few days or weeks under respite care.
- Join a support group: Support groups are an excellent place to share and gather resources. Some groups are currently still meeting with the use of tele therapy and platforms such as Zoom until gathering in person becomes safer due to Covid.
- Encourage independent behavior: The more you can encourage your loved one to re-gain skills the more independent they will become. The more they can do, the more you can do for If you do everything for them, as much as you think you are helping their skills can actually further decline. Obviously everyone is different and some will have more that they can do than others. Getting a therapy team in your home to evaluate their existing skills and deficits is a great place to begin. Collaborate with your therapy team on the best and safest way to increase independence for your loved one.