Dear Donna:

I recently returned home to Michigan from New York to help care for my parents. While I live close to them, we’re not in the same house. They both have different health concerns and need someone to oversee their care and household tasks.

My employer allows me to work remotely, but I still put in a lot of hours each week. I’m really struggling to get organized. Do you have any suggestions to help a new caregiver like me? I’m really overwhelmed.


Chris in Grand Haven, MI

Organizational Tips for New Family Caregivers

Dear Chris:

Assuming the role of family caregiver is a big undertaking. When you factor in your relocation and busy job, it’s easy to see why you are struggling. Here are some suggestions I hope will be beneficial:

  • Accept that you will need help.

Adult children often believe they should be able to manage their aging parents’ support on their own. Very rarely is this realistic. As you take on this new role, recognize that you will need to ask for and accept help. That support might come in many forms.

It could be asking a friend or family member to stay with your parents for an hour or two while you relax and see a movie or have your hair done. You could also ask a friend to pick up a few groceries or drop off dinner to your parents.

  • Organize caregiving details.

Many adult children say they feel an extraordinary amount of stress when they first step into the caregiving role. They may worry they won’t do a good job or fear they will overlook important appointments or tasks. Getting organized can help relieve some of that anxiety.

Begin by blocking out time to set up a system. Sort and organize your parents’ important health care paperwork and legal documents. If you need to, ask a friend or family member to sit with your parents so you can have this uninterrupted time.

Organize their paperwork in a binder by topic or date (e.g., test results, medication list, and physician contact information). Also check to see if their health care provider has an online portal your parents can access. Taking time to review visit summaries, test results, and other notes can give you a better picture of what’s been happening.

Next, add your parents’ appointments and follow-up tasks to your personal calendar. If there are household tasks that need to be completed, place those on your calendar, too. This helps to avoid double-booking yourself or missing something. Not having to rely on your memory can alleviate some of your stress. Apps like My Medical can make tracking and organizing easier.

  • Establish and stick to a routine.

This step may take some time, but having a routine can make caregiving more manageable. Try to cluster errands and appointments on one or two days each week. This will allow you to have uninterrupted blocks of time to work and handle your own needs.

It also requires fewer arrangements for a friend or family member to stay with your loved one. For example, if both parents have dentist appointments, schedule them concurrently. That allows you to make one trip instead of two.

  • Connect with a caregiver support group.

Caregivers face unique challenges that others may not understand. It can be very isolating. Having a group of peers who understand and can empathize is usually beneficial to a caregiver’s emotional and physical well-being. Support group members may have specific ideas for juggling work with a caregiving schedule.

Peers can also commiserate with you about the emotional side of caregiving. For example, if you are feeling guilty, resentful, angry, or sad, you’ll likely find people who’ve experienced those emotions too. You can even connect with a support caregiver group online, if that is easier on your schedule.

  • Practice good self-care.

Finally, follow the oxygen mask advice flight attendants share during their pre-flight safety talk: help yourself before helping others. Caregivers must make good self-care a priority. If you don’t, you’re more likely to experience a medical crisis of your own.

Respite services at assisted living communities may make that possible for you. Your parents can spend a week or so at a community while you take a vacation or just some time off.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Chris!

Kind regards,