Caregiving Chronicles: Easy gifts to help caregivers survive

The holidays may be over, however, you can help out caregivers year-round with thoughtful gifts that will ease their minds and help pass the time.

1. Sundries. Stuff like dry shampoo and chapstick are often overlooked when you're rushing to the ER. What happens after you sit in a waiting room for eight hours? You can't tell the difference between the patient and caretaker. Travel-sized sundries stay in a bag and there when you need them most.

You know I write my name & number in ALL CAPS the second we make it to a room

All markers are mysteriously missing

Also, a set of white-board markers is surprisingly useful. Nurses can be stingy and caregivers have to be pushy when it comes to staying in the loop (i.e., writing your name and phone number in ALL CAPS on that bad boy).

2. In-hospital sustenance. I'm talking restaurant/coffee shop gift cards, people. While patients get three square meals (hello, Jell-O!) delivered each day, caregivers are on their own. And that can break the bank!

Check out hospitals' websites for a list of restaurants or use GoogleMaps to ID spots nearby if  loved ones are in stable condition and caregivers can head outside for some fresh air. I know I certainly feel better after dropping $4000 on a Starbucks latte. No really, I do.


3.  Transportation. Wanna talk about expensive? Try parking in a hospital parking lot for any amount of time. For example, at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, validated rates start at $12 to park for 0-7 hours, $25 and up for anything longer. Check to see if the hospital in question offers validation stickers that can be pre-purchased, helping to make everything a little more efficient and affordable.

And depending on the distance driven (e.g., home -->grandma's house -->downtown for appts --> grandma's house --> home) gas cards are a nice alternative to hospital parking validation.

For those taking public transit, that adds up too! Buy bus/subway tickets via the web and have them shipped directly to a caregiver's door.

4. Self-care. Everyone tells caregivers to "first care for themselves". Easy, right? Um, no. Do they mean exercise? Errands like grocery shopping? Meal prep? Even with a supportive partner, it's next to impossible. Cue awesome services like...

a. Ready-made meal delivery. This was one of the best gifts I received from a friend during a recent spate of caring for mom. Go online, enter the code, pick out healthy meals and they're delivered to my door...ready to eat. Check out Home Bistro and Send-a-Meal for ideas!

b. Prepped meal delivery. Subscription services like Blue Apron enable you to feel like you are keeping your shit together when in fact, you aren't. Prepped, pre-measured ingredients packed in dry ice are sent to your door along with corresponding recipes that can feed 2-4 people for as many nights as your subscription (or gift card) allows. Similar services include Plated and Hello Fresh.

c. Grocery delivery. Services like Peapod , Instacart, AmazonFresh and certain regional grocery chains offer the ease of ordering online and convenience of home delivery of any goody you can imagine. After a day of schlepping around town to various appointments, it's as easy as pointing and clicking to get food delivered for tomorrow night's dinner.

d. Housekeeping servicesCheck reviews on Yelp and choose an insured service if you aren't familiar with the cleaners. Easy peasy!

e. Gym Membership. Caring for someone else can be as financially taxing as it is emotionally/physically. For those who can't justify a gym membership, gift one (some are month-to-month) to a nearby gym to encourage your caregiver friend to find catharsis via a kickboxing class.

f. Spa treatments. Mani/pedi/massage - whatever. It's all relaxing. Just make sure they have coverage for their loved one so they can really relax!

5. Entertainment. While hanging out in the ER can be oddly entertaining (for us twisted folks), waiting rooms get old REALLY fast. Sometimes I don't want to talk to my mom, or she's in with a doc and I'm stuck twiddling my thumbs. How to bide the time?

a. Assuming your caregiver friend owns an iPad, Kindle, Tablet, smartphone etc. (a nice gift in and of itself), subscriptions to streaming video services are crucial in keeping many folks occupied. Speaking from experience, thanks to Netflix and Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, we continue to work our way through ALL SEVEN SEASONS OF COLUMBO in between scans and appointments.

And, if I've got time to plan, M-Go lets me download actual movies and shows when WiFi is spotty. Which is always.

b. For the literature lover, offers a huge library of audiobooks or, gift credits to the Amazon kindle store or Apple's iBooks and readers can populate their library with magazines, books and more.

c. As for the audiophile, Amazon credits enable a consumer to download  whatever Steely Dan LP his heart desires, or pay a monthly fee and stream tunes sans ads via Amazon Prime Music, Spotify or Pandora.

I personally prefer Spotify as you can download playlists and listen offline (see above comment re: spotty WiFi).

6. Time. Are you local? Take the kids overnight so a caregiver can have some solo time or a date night. Frankly, this is the most valuable gift our friends and family continue to offer...we just need to work on saying "yes" more often!

No one ever accused me of being rational. Follow Swirleytime on twitter @swirleytime and Facebook for interesting stories, links and a lot of self-deprecating humor.

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