Balancing Work and Eldercare

Tips to Tell if Your Loved One's Call Is a True Emergency
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One of the more challenging aspects of being a working caregiver is getting a call from your loved one -- or make that many, many calls -- and feeling unsure about whether you need to leave work to address it.

Here are some measures that can help you stay on the job:

Ask what else is going on. Beyond the person's primary reason for calling, try to suss out the person's emotional state. Is he or she truly sick or just bored? Worried about something or just lonely?

Talk on a webcam you've set up. You may need to have someone help your loved one to do this, but if you can see the person with your own eyes, it can provide more information about health -- and whatever else is going on -- than just hearing a voice.

Ask your backup to check. It's important to have two or three people who've agreed to act as emergency eyes and ears: a neighbor, church member, a paid caregiver at an agency you've connected with. A quick check may cost you $25 or so but will save you money compared with lost work time.

Find ways to help the person self-calm. You may be getting calls simply because your loved one is bored, lonely, anxious, or scared. Some people can be encouraged to pet a dog or cat or to hold a favorite blanket to feel comforted. But if this doesn't apply to your loved one, suggest a heating pad. Many people find psychological comfort in using a heating pad even if they don't have a backache. Be sure to get one that has an automatic-off system; these don't overheat or burn.

Look for patterns that warrant special solutions. If your loved one is calling over and over to ask you a basic question ("What time are you coming home?") or to remind you of something ("We need milk"), the problem may be increasing dementia. An elder companion or respite program can break up the hours alone and provide a watchful eye. If your loved one is consistently calling with reports of burglars and break-ins, the issue may be anxiety, and medication may be advised by his or her doctor.