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Saving time is an essential life hack for caregivers. A life-saving tube is being thrown in the air with a clock in the center.

Caregiver Life Hacks

Short on time? Of course, you are, if you’re a caregiver! From one caregiver to another, here is a quick, frank list of some of the hacks that have made my life easier over the years that I’ve been helping my parents.

Auto-reply.

Caregiver Life Hack No. 1

We live in a society that expects us to be available at all times, for any reason. This is not conducive to a caregiver’s schedule or uncertain lifestyle. You may have to check your work email multiple times a day, but chances are that is not the case for your personal email. You might want to try what I do: put up an auto-reply! Give yourself permission to set your priorities. Here is the text I use for mine; feel free to use this, and to edit it to fit your circumstances:

“Hello! I hope this note finds you well!

Due to my family caregiving responsibilities, my e-mail turnaround time is often quite long. If you are writing to me about a time-sensitive matter, please text or call me to alert me. Otherwise, I will respond to you as soon as possible. Your patience is sincerely appreciated and I am grateful for your support.

Have a great day!”

I set reminders in my phone for the days that I expect bills to be emailed to me; otherwise, the auto-reply lets me feel at ease about going several days at a time without checking my personal email, because at least anyone writing to me has been briefed about what is taking me so long.

 “Go Bag.”

Caregiver Life Hack N0. 2

Unfortunately, part of the nature of what we do as caregivers means that hospital visits are common. Some of the scariest moments I can remember are the times when I’ve had to leave the hospital to “grab a few things,” especially if my loved one was being transported to a different location at the time. I was always terrified that I would miss something important. So, I started keeping a “Go Bag:” a small suitcase with everything I would need for a few days away from home. I also include comfort items that my loved ones would need if they were hospitalized. I keep this packed and ready to go at all times; it never gets unpacked.

If you’re worried that you might forget to pack something essential, try this: keep a small suitcase on the floor of your bedroom or on your couch for a few days, and when you use something, toss an “extra” of that thing into the suitcase. That way, you should have most of what you use in a day in the suitcase. Do not worry about toiletries; hospitals always have toiletry items available. After a day or two, once your loved one is set up and you’ve had a chance to meet the team and talk about the plan, you’ll feel more comfortable running home to refresh the bag. My “Go Bag” has saved me hours and hours of time running back and forth between my house and the hospital.

Past Medical History/Medicine List.

Caregiver Life Hack No. 3

Most of us carry a list of the medications we take, but when was the last time you updated it? When was the last time you made sure you could still read it or that it was undamaged? We try our best to keep a current list of medications for each family member in a few places in the house and also in our bags or wallets. You could also take a picture of the list to have on your phone. We update the list every time there is a medication change.

Another way to make the most use of this document is to treat it like a medical snapshot of a person: what is their list of diagnoses? What is a brief history of their medical issues? What would a treating doctor need to know in an emergency? Write it all down. Some other useful information to include: date of birth; allergies; names and phone numbers of doctors; emergency contacts; etc. Anything you would want an emergency provider to know. While it is true that a large portion of our medical records are now portable and accessible online, the records can be long and unwieldy when looking for fast answers or contextual explanations.

The “Pivot.”

Caregiver Life Hack No. 4

There is no issue more frustrating for caregivers than the presentation of unwanted, unsolicited advice by people who reach out after hearing about a loved one’s diagnosis. Sometimes, all the advice can make a caregiver feel inundated and overwhelmed, especially when the advice is not useful. One way to turn useless advice into useful help is a maneuver I call “the pivot.”

When someone approaches with unsolicited advice that you do not find helpful, respond by saying something like “thank you, I’ll look into that. Hey, can you bring us lunch on Friday? That’s a busy day for me and I’d really appreciate the help.” This way, you can find out if the person is well-intentioned, and hopefully receive useful assistance in the process. Usually, people do genuinely want to help, and unsolicited advice is what they offer in the absence of knowing what else to say. “The pivot” is a graceful way to help people shift their efforts into something useful to you, as a caregiver. In order to make “the pivot” work, try to keep a list on you of chores or tasks you need help with, and be willing to assume that folks really do want to help.

We hope these caregiver life hacks help, however…

There is not one right approach to caregiving, because every caregiver and every situation is different. What works for one caregiver may not work for another. However, so many caregivers face similar obstacles and frustrations. Sharing practical ways to handle these issues can go a long way to making our lives just a bit less chaotic. Then, we can save more of our mental and emotional energy for the loved ones we are supporting.

Danielle Pardue is the Legal Fellow for Triage Cancer and a patient advocate. She is the primary caregiver for her mom, who has Stage IV lung cancer, and her dad, who has several chronic illnesses.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis. For free caregiver resources, visit triagecancer.org/caregiving and see our new Practical Guide to Cancer Rights for Caregivers.

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Kaylee Place
kp@triagecancer.org