Organization — or, more accurately, lack of it — is one of the biggest struggles I hear from many of the family caregivers with whom I connect.
Inadequate time management, unending paperwork shuffle, and scheduling nightmares, seemingly always when most inconvenient, add stress to the lives of family caregivers.
Caregivers are often the only ones who keep track of insurance papers, medical records, bills, medication lists and a variety of appointments including doctors, blood work and haircuts!
How can we be better organized to help reduce our daily stress?
Will technology help us to gain control over the overwhelming mountain of tasks, to do lists and papers?
One of the biggest hurdles to staying organized is that fact that our information mountains are growing everyday, not only for our senior loved ones but ourselves too!
Organizing Your Senior’s Day
Day to day activities often seem to take too much time to accomplish. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like your day starts, you accomplish a few things and suddenly it’s dinner time already?
If we get a little better organized, we can get our day running more smoothly.
- Set up medication boxes for the week with all the pills for the day separated so that there is no fumbling with bottles and remembering what to take when.
- Plan meals for the week ahead. Prepare some of the meals on the weekend when there may be family visiting freeing up your time for other duties like cooking. Cutting fruits and vegetables ahead of time, washing produce or cooking extra portions to use in recipes later in the week will help make the mealtime. Who likes trying to decide on meals an hour before dinner? If you plan meals with the sale flyers it can help your budget too.
- Set out your senior loved one’s clothes the night before to make the morning routine easier. Keep the bathroom supplies at the ready too to avoid confusion or arguments. Get a coffee pot that starts on a timer so the coffee is ready when you are.
- Keep your personal network at the ready. If something unexpected should happen, you will have people to call to come to your aid with companionship, respite or delivery of much needed supplies. Having someone to talk to when you need it will help you face the day and de-stress.
High & Low Tech Solutions for De-Stressing
Because there is so much paperwork finding its way into our homes and onto our cupboards and desks, we need to find ways to determine which need to be saved, what can be tossed and how best to keep it from unbalancing our lives.
Different people like different kinds of systems to stay organized so what works for one person might not work for another. Try out a few things that can work for both you and others in your life. Here are several suggestions that can make your life easier and reduce your stress.
- Toss some of your mail, don’t save it all. If it has personal information on it you should shred it before you throw it away. A cross cut shredder is a good investment to keep you and your senior loved one’s identity safer when paperwork is thrown away.
- Convert as many bills as possible to online payment, going paperless for routine bills like water or mortgage so that paper statements don’t arrive every month with no place to go or just to collect dust. We recommend adding some payments to a credit card that gives you rewards – ensuring you pay it off each month – instead of just getting it taken directly from your bank account without your payment working for you. You can still review the statement online to be sure the charges are appropriate.
- Set up a paper filing system in a secure area of the home. Color coding file folders is helpful for different items such as credit cards, health insurance, utility bills and taxes. Setting aside fifteen minutes a week to file any papers that you need to keep will prevent them from piling up. Tossing all the records, flyers and information from places you go into a box hoping to save time will only cause chaos when you can’t find the one document you need in a hurry. A small file cabinet in a closet to hold the important papers is another good investment to save your time, energy and stress level.
- Transfer important documents into digital files like your medical records, lab results, vaccination record, insurance explanation of benefits or other paperwork you want to keep. Papers can be scanned into your computer and stored in a program such as Evernote which can be viewed on any of your mobile devices for quick retrieval. Once saved in the cloud or on an external hard drive instead of your hard drive in your laptop computer, you will have the added peace of mind that they won’t be lost if the computer crashes.
- Use an organizing app to coordinate medical appointments and other bits of information that might be handy in the future. Many come with advisors, personal health assistants or health experts that can be accessed around the clock within the health app to answer your questions, educate you about diseases or medications and remind you of upcoming appointments. There are many of these kinds of apps you might want to investigate but there are a few in particular that you might like such as Unfrazzle, Better by Mayo Clinic, or Mobicare. Your local drugstore app can help you with filling prescriptions, keeping medication records and reminding you when a new prescription is filled or needs filling. Many of these apps are free and will help over time. These apps can be time intensive in the beginning to customize to your life and your senior’s needs but that time investment will pay off in future organization.
- Set your smartphone to send you alerts when appointments are made or to do list items are coming due. You can set multiple alerts for each item on your calendar. It can remind you in plenty of time to cancel, change or get ready for every appointment when alerts are scheduled at intervals such as one week, two days or one hour ahead of time. Calendar alerts are also great ways to remember even small items like time to change the smoke alarm batteries, have the heating unit serviced or change the air filters in the air conditioner. Not to mention, you will never forget another birthday if you set annual reminders one week ahead for every important birthday, just enough time to get and mail a fun card to show you care.
- Use a notebook (electronic is best) to keep all the sticky notes and jotted paper napkins in one place. When you have little pieces of paper all over the house they could be lost or overlooked, something is sure to fall through the cracks. When life gets busy and we get tired, we may forget to look at the sticky notes or remember the bits of information you stored in your head for later. Keeping all the tidbits in a central place is a better solution for staying organized. Even better yet is using the smartphone you don’t leave home without for storing notes and tidbits. iOS phones have an icon for note taking that is a great place to jot down tidbits or putting them directly in the task list of the calendar app will help you stay organized.
- Adopt ways you can easily share this mountain of data with others including siblings and other family members. If you store information in a calendar app, you can sync it with others through Google email addresses that allow you to both see the appointments, reminders and to do lists. If you use Google documents, they can be shared with others too. Setting up a secure website allows you to share photos and scanned pdf documents with only those you wish to see them. Medical devices that collect health data like vital signs and home monitoring systems can be shared to caregiver smartphones when more than one caregiver needs the information.
Staying organized, managing your time wisely and being prepared for whatever life brings will help caregivers be productive and happy! We would love to hear how you stay organized!