Q: My mother was in good health until recently. Now I’m taking care of her and my young children, and I already feel like I’m burning out. How can I best prepare myself for this shift?
Often when we talk about coping strategies for the sandwich generation, we end up focusing on self-care, which is important but doesn’t cover all the bases. It also takes plenty of organization and planning to keep stress to a minimum.
To get started, think of yourself as more than just a chauffeur or scheduler: You are also an archivist. Have a dedicated notebook that you can bring to all your mother’s appointments to record important information. Assuming she is comfortable, be in the exam room at all times as a second set of ears, so you can help her process the information later.
Just because there’s a computer in the family doctor’s office and one in the specialist’s office and one in the hospital, it doesn’t mean they are talking to each other. Asking for copies of investigations like blood tests and imaging results can help you ease transitions from one provider to another and minimize redundancy. If you can collect information and devise a system to have it on hand, it can reduce stress and frustration for you and your mother, as well as for her team of health care professionals.
Another way to protect yourself from burnout is by expanding the circle of people who can help your mother. Consider scanning all your notes and materials and filing them in an online drop box that other trusted people can access with a password. You won’t be able to go to every appointment or hospital visit yourself, and believing that you’re on your own can make you feel even more depleted. No matter who ends up making that next trip to the emergency room with your mom, they should have easy access to all the relevant information.
The night before an appointment, in a calm and quiet space, write a list of questions both you and your mother want to ask. People sometimes feel guilty about bringing in a list, but it’s the only way to make sure all of your questions get answered, and it helps your mother stay engaged in her own care.
Ask your mother’s health care team to recommend websites or online resources. We all know the danger of relying on Dr. Google — this way, if you read something and want to bring it to the team’s attention, it’s information from a trusted source.
For every appointment or hospital visit, bring all the medication your mother is taking, so the health care provider can look at the pill bottle itself. And don’t forget to bring a bottle of water, snacks and twice as much money for parking as you think you will actually need.
By taking these small, proactive measures, you can manage your own stress and contribute exponentially to the quality of care your mother receives.
Danielle Martin is a family physician and vice-president, medical affairs and health system solutions, at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.