If you are a caregiver to your aging parent, you know that you need to be organized to juggle everything on your plate. However, did you know that it will be beneficial to everyone involved if your aging parent or loved one is also organized?
Many people think that once they retire, they don’t need to be organized anymore. The thing is, if you have appointments and rely on people to assist you, the more organized you are, the better off everyone is. A caree’s organization system doesn’t have to be as in depth as a caregiver’s system. They just need to figure out a system for managing appointments, medical needs, transportation and everything else that it takes to run their home.
I had several clients who were formerly executive assistants in their careers. I also had clients who ran a home like a business. The thing that they had in common was that they knew how to keep track of things when they had a lot of balls in the air. Now, if your aging parent has never really had an organization system – which, let’s face it, many people don’t – it can be hard to get started.
Organization Strategies for Aging Parents
If your loved one isn’t used to having a system, he/she may be resistant. I get it. While I’m a total organizing geek, my mom is not. She runs late for everything, she has little slips of paper with notes everywhere and we usually have to make at least two trips to the grocery store on a holiday for forgotten items. Now, I’ll never make her a list-making, planner geek like me, which is perfectly fine, but I do try to find ways to help her get important things sorted.
Here are some organization tips that can help your aging loved one manage their care and life.
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Keep a calendar. If your loved one has several appointments, they need some sort of calendar system to stay organized. I’ve seen everything from a large desk pad calendar that has plenty of room for notes and is good for those with vision problems, to a small pocket calendar that fits in a handbag, to a desk-size appointment book. It doesn’t matter what your caree uses as long as there is enough room to write notes and they keep it in a place that they –and you – can easily access.
Don’t rely on memory alone. As we know, our brains change with age, so relying exclusively on your memory can be challenging. If your parent is defensive about memory issues, here’s another reason to get them to write things down – writing things down takes things out of their brain, which can reduce their stress levels. In addition to writing down things like medical appointments, your caree can write down when and where to refill prescriptions, make a list of medications, times and doses and keep track of when bills are due. If you haven’t downloaded them before, give them a copy of my free Caregiving Made Easy Prescription Tracker and FamilyMedicalFile to help them get started.
- Create a routine or daily system. Your aging parent may not go to work every day, but there are still things that he/she may need to handle that may get forgotten. I had a client who did specific activities on specific days. For example, Mondays were laundry day, Tuesdays were bill paying day, Wednesdays were bathroom cleaning day, etc. While it may seem extremely type A, it actually was great because she never over did it and she never forgot to do something. Your caree may also want to have a daily routine to stay on task and feel productive. A sample routine can look like this: breakfast, medication, clean up kitchen, free time, lunch, daily walk, daily task, free time, dinner prep, kitchen clean up. This way, your parent doesn’t lose the day in front of the TV every day.
- Make lists. Even if your aging parent isn’t normally a list maker or planner, keeping lists is a great idea. Consider picking up a small notebook for your aging mother’s purse or a regular notebook for the kitchen table. Title the tops of the pages for them and they can then just write things down as they come up. For example, there can be a list of “Things to discuss with the doctor,” or “Things that need repair at home,” or “Appointments to make,” or “Groceries.” The “list” goes on and on. That way, when they are going to the doctor, they can tear out that list and take it with them or you can pick up the grocery list before you head out on a shopping trip.
- Make information easily accessible. I know these days we all have phone numbers stored in our phones, but it is still a good idea to keep a list of phone numbers easily accessible next to the phone. I had a client whose children taped a long list of phone numbers next to the phone. The list included everything from each of their home, work and cell numbers to phone numbers for doctors, pharmacies, service providers (plumber, landscaper, etc.). That way, if a paid caregiver is in their home, they can reach a family member easily or call the plumber if necessary. You can also do this with a TV schedule (your parent’s favorite show, time and network) or instructions to use the TV, tablet or computer.
- Have homes for important things. If your aging parent is a bit of a clutterbug, create a few spaces that are just for specific things. My parents have a tray where all of their mail goes. Mail may stay in there for months and months, but at least they know where to look if they need to find a bill or invitation. If your parent takes many medications, put them all in one place with the list of medical information. You don’t need to go in and re-organize their home or declutter everything, just make sure that important things are in easily accessible places and everyone knows where they live.
- Create a medication system. If your aging parent takes a variety of medication, it can be difficult to stay on top of everything. Keeping track of medication with the Caregiving Made Easy Prescription Tracker is critical. It can be dangerous to miss a medication or take it improperly.
Once you have the basics down, there are small organization tweaks you can make to ensure your parent is organized enough. Again, you aren’t trying to change your caree, you’re trying to help them manage their condition or maintain their independence.
Here are some helpful tweaks they can make to simplify things even more:
- Put together a medication schedule, which includes times to take medication and any details specific to that medication (example, take with food, don’t take with citrus, etc.). Keep the list next to the medication and keep everything together.
- Use nail polish to write the first letter of medication on the top of the bottle so that your parent can see what they’re taking if the lights are low or if they have vision problems.
- Consider a pill distribution tool that rings when it is time to take a pill if your parent forgets to take medication.
- Come up with a weekly schedule for household chores together and put it up where your parent can see it.
- Purchase automated tools to help take some of the load off your parents. For example, gift your parent a Roomba so that they don’t have to keep up with regular vacuuming or purchase cleaning wipes for different rooms so that they don’t have to lug cleaning products around. You may even want to consider getting your parent an Amazon Echo so that your parent can order things like paper towels or dish soap when they run out (if they have Amazon Prime, shipping is free).
Organization doesn’t have to be hard. Find organization strategies that will work for your aging parent to make sure they are able to follow through. The more organized your caree is, the easier things will be for you.
For example, if your parent books a medical appointment and immediately puts in on his/her calendar, you can check the calendar during your visit to see if you need to take time off to take them to an appointment or if someone else can handle it. No more last-minute scrambling.
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