Caring for a Loved One
1. People may not ask for help when they need it
It can be hard to gauge how well friends and family are functioning day-to-day. Is driving difficult for Dad or is Mom keeping up with her prescriptions? Without being able to see for yourself, you can only ask your loved ones how they are doing and take them at their word. But it’s hard for people to ask for help or admit that they might be slowing down.
2. What to look out for
While aging typically brings on an inevitable slowing down, warning signs are different. Keep an eye out for some of these signals that loved ones are at risk of being unsafe or of not taking care of themselves adequately:
Home: A dirty home is a sign that they may be struggling to keep up with everyday tasks.
Car: Check your loved one’s vehicle for new scratches and dents which indicate that they may not be as safe a driver as they used to be.
Memory: Signs of forgetfulness include missed appointments, late and unpaid bills, and repeat purchases of the same item. Scorched pots could mean that they’ve been forgetting things on the stove.
Mobility: Pay attention to bruises since these may be the result of a fall.
Hygiene: Dirty clothes, body odor, and dental issues are signs they’re not taking care of themselves.
Weight: Check their fridge to be sure that it is stocked with appropriate and nutritious food.
Habits: Be on the lookout for abrupt changes in behavior.
Health: Make sure your family members are able to make it to all of their appointments, can give themselves insulin shots, change bandages, and take medications as prescribed, if needed.
Social circle: Companionship and support systems are important parts of health. Check in with friends and neighbors who may be the first to notice change in behavior.
3. The basics for a beginning caregiver
One person’s route into caregiving could be different than another’s. It may begin with grocery trips and filling prescriptions or a severe health event could mean that you’re suddenly taking on responsibilities that seemed years away. One common theme throughout disparate experiences is that there is a realization that roles are shifting and you are becoming responsible for another person.
Must-dos at the beginning of care
- Find out more: understand the diagnosis.
- Learn about medications and prescriptions.
- Start talking: health, finances, planning.
It may take some adjustments to understand and accept the changes in a loved one’s behavior or abilities. New developments like incontinence, memory lapses, or changes in disposition or behavior could be an indication that something is going on and should be evaluated by a doctor.
4. Take stock of your loved one’s situation
At this stage, it may feel that there are more questions than answers. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but there are resources to help. If you need help gathering information or even knowing which questions to ask about your loved one’s situation, hiring a geriatric care manager or a gerontological social worker could help you get the lay of the land.
What does your loved one need?
Get an accurate picture of what your loved one really needs by spending time with them in person and at home. Making a physical list of tasks will help you address everything and keep needs from falling through the cracks.
Take a look at their home. Sometimes people struggle with stairs, bathtubs, or narrow hallways and need adaptive devices. This should factor into the decision about where your loved one should live.
How prepared is your loved one?
Do they have legal protections like a will and power of attorney set up? Have they decided where they would like to live out their remaining years? Many want to age-in-place whereas others would like to move to a facility. Take this into account when making decisions, but if they want something that would be dangerous for them, their needs and safety must come first.
Is insurance coverage adequate?
It’s important for caregivers to know what kinds of insurance benefits are available for their loved one, including Medicare and any group retiree medical coverage that they may have. If long-term care insurance hasn’t been purchased, it’s important to know that private medical insurance and Medicare don’t usually cover this expense. But Medicaid may be a solution for those who have exhausted their savings.
Take a look at your aging loved one’s net worth and resources to pay for care that insurance doesn’t cover. Explore community resources as a way to fill any gaps.
What are the are continuum options?
Find out what kinds of options are available to you in your area. Visit, interview, and read reviews of your local options to get a sense of their quality and whether they are a fit for your loved one.
- In-home help: for seniors who want to age in place.
- Senior day programs: can give consistent or respite care.
- Independent living communities: provide companionship for seniors.
- Assisted living facilities: are for those who can no longer live on their own.
- Nursing homes: have medical staff to take care of residents with complex medical needs.
- Hospice care: can help those who are terminally ill.
Beyond the cost of care, be sure to factor in expenses to make a home accessible should your loved ones want to age in place, so you can make an informed decision.
5. Take stock of your situation
No matter where you live you can still help—facilitating care services from a distance is just as valuable as in-person caring. Figure out what you can do, what you can’t, how much support you have, and how you’ll pay for their care to make the situation as successful as possible.
Your family situation
If you have siblings, they may be able help shoulder the burden. If your family situation is complicated, however, it’s helpful to have a geriatric case manager help you navigate these new waters with a care plan.
Consider asking yourself these questions:
- Who can help care for your loved one?
- What are the family expectations for the situation?
- Are you close enough to visit often? Is there room for your loved one to move in with you?
- How much are you able to contribute financially? Can other family members help?
- How are you feeling emotionally? Do you have support?
- Are you capable of providing care for your loved one’s specific needs?
Caregiving demands time
List all the tasks your loved one needs help with and add up how long each takes. Make sure that you aren’t responsible for more than you can realistically give without draining yourself.
This is especially true if you have a job and your own family. Caregiver burnout happens when you take on too much over a long period. Saying “no” can be a responsible choice when caregiving causes resentment or exhaustion, especially if other options are available.
Number of Hours Dedicated to Caregiving by Age of Family Caregiver
Source: The Partnership for Solutions. (2004). Chronic Conditions: Making the Case for Ongoing Care
Caregiving can be physically difficult
The frailer your loved one is, the harder it will be to care for them. In the case of a loved one with memory-related concerns such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, care givers usually need special training. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it and never feel guilty—even medical personnel have teams and support.
Caregiving is emotionally demanding
When deciding what and how much you can do, make sure that you have the emotional support to handle it. It’s hard watching loved ones struggle with things they were once capable of—don’t underestimate how emotionally draining this role reversal can be.
It is impossible to take care of someone else if you are not healthy. Physical, emotional, and mental health are all vital to prevent burnout and reduce stress. Make sure that you get enough sleep, proper nutrition, and physical activity throughout the day. Make time for regular doctor appointments, and if your emotional or mental health is suffering, consider making time to see a therapist. Sometimes being able to put the focus on yourself and your needs can be a stress reliever.
Remember that to be the best caregiver you can be, you need to feel your best, which means taking care of yourself so that you can tend to all your loved one's needs.
Source: Fidelity Investments