8/9/2022 | By Katharine Ross

As a caregiver, establishing and maintaining a routine can be challenging. A sudden, unforeseen issue can throw the routine off entirely, adding to the challenges – and leading to burnout. Seniors Guide president Katharine Ross offers guidance for caregiver flexibility, facing unexpected health issues and other problems, based on her experiences in tackling such surprises.

My husband, Johnny, has had a pretty tough healthcare journey for the last 15 years. He doesn’t need a caregiver, but when health problems arise suddenly, I put on my caregiving hat – maybe for a day, maybe for a week, maybe for a month, depending on what’s going on. During the past 15 years, we’ve had things that pop up: all of a sudden, a day ends up taking a left turn because of an unexpected health episode. I’ve come to call those days “pivot days.”

Pivot days are tough. They’re stressful. All of a sudden, what you may have planned for yourself and for your family completely takes a turn. In facing those surprises, I’ve found kind of a course of action that has been really helpful to me. I hope the concept can be helpful to you as well as you develop skills, including caregiver flexibility, to make the best of this stage of life and avoid caregiver burnout.

Tips for caregiver flexibility

1: Focus on what’s urgent first.

If Johnny needs to go to the ER, I get him to the ER. If he needs to not be driving and he’s out driving, I need to get him to a safe place. If he has kids with him, we get them to a safe place.

2: Rebuild your day.

Grandfather in a wheelchair, with daughter and granddaughter, in a park taking a selfie. Photo by Igor Mojzes, Dreamstime. These tips for caregiver flexibility help caregivers to manage unexpected health issues and other surprises, and to avoid burnout.

Once you’ve taken care of the crisis or you’ve gotten your loved one where they need to be, what comes next? How do you rebuild your day?

To build your personal caregiver flexibility, rebuild your day, and avoid burnout, ask:

  • What’s on the agenda today? I look at my agenda as well as my son’s and my husband’s.
  • Of the agenda and to-do-list items, what has to happen and what can fall to the wayside?
  • What resources do you have that can help manage the crisis and rebuild the day? Do you have a friend or family member nearby who can pitch in? Are there other sources for meeting your needs?

For example, if you and your loved one need an evening meal, you can have food delivered to your house – from a friend or a food delivery service. If you have grandparent duty to get kids to rehearsals, you might be able to switch the date up with someone else. Or perhaps you have chorus rehearsal or game night with friends – that may be a calendar item that can fall to the wayside.

Related: Three tips for the Alzheimer’s caregiver

Exploring and answering those questions helps me get my arms around a plan for the day. It helps me feel more in control of what’s going on, which is very reassuring when I’m also worrying about my loved one.

Caregiving is full of days that are a bit unpredictable. Developing caregiver flexibility means knowing how to navigate the surprises and having methods for meeting your obligations. It helps you love your loved one through their crisis. Caregiver flexibility empowers you to best fulfill all of your obligations, avoid burnout, and enjoy life, too.

Katharine Ross

Katharine Ross joined Seniors Guide in 2001 and has been helping seniors and caregivers find the resources they need ever since. She’s had a front row seat to the industry’s evolution in preparing for the demands of baby boomers, and she’s seen how caring and effective providers have navigated the challenges of contemporary society. She wants to empower seniors and caregivers to create their best lives by having access to the accurate, useful information. When she’s not working, Ross is chasing her son across ski slopes and bike trails.