Tips For Caregivers

Record Keeping

  • Keep records of all medications and reactions. Make notes about what works, what does not work, and when you told the doctor about any problems.
  • Keep records of all doctor appointments, the reason for the visit, the doctors’ responses to your questions, and any procedures performed.
  • Start or continue to maintain copies of medical records for your loved one. This will be beneficial should a grievance arise or is there are questions about medical histories.
  • Keep a record of where all-important documents are kept. When an emergency or tragedy occurs, locating information should not be where we spend our thought and energies.
  • Record all monetary involvements: investments, resources, creditors, debtors, business transactions, etc.

Have an Insurance Analysis Done

  • Is your home, life, and health insurance still appropriate for your family’s needs?
  • What about the insurance policies for your loved ones? Do you all have enough coverage to take care of any eventuality?
  • Do you have provisions for long-term care? For respite care?

Medications

  • Clean out the medicine chest. Look for expiration dates on all medicine, and check with your doctor about previous medications that will either be harmful with current prescriptions or that are no longer effective.

Plan for the Unexpected

  • Discuss plans and wishes of everyone involved in caregiving.
  • Talk about final resting places and the arrangements your family wants.

Make out a Will

  • Have a Last Will and Testament completed or updated. Without a signed Will, the courts decide how to distribute your possessions.
  • Fill out an Advanced Directive form and give it to your primary doctor and all relatives who may need the form.

Outside Help

  • Don’t do everything yourself. Ask others in your family for help.
  • Sit down and discuss what each member of the household (including children) can do, and develop a schedule of responsibilities taking into account each person’s ability, maturity, and availability.
  • If there are no other members of your household or relatives close by, look to friends or members of your church or social group. Often, people want to help but are not sure what they can do.
  • Be prepared to respond to their offers. Try to determine the time, money, or energy commitment they are willing to make and give them one or two suggestions that fit their level of commitment.
  • Make a “needs list” – and the next time someone offers to help, give him or her one of the tasks.

Saying "No"

  • Be assertive! Set limits on your time and be realistic about what you can and cannot be responsible for right now.
  • Ask friends and relatives to visit during hours that are convenient for you.

Make Time for Yourself

  • Take time to get away from caregiving for at least a few hours each week or longer, if you can.
  • Home care agencies, caregiver groups, and hospice programs offer “respite caregivers” (someone that will stay with your loved one for a few hours).

Stay Healthy

It is not uncommon for caregivers to provide the best care possible for others and wind up neglecting their own health. Letting yourself become exhausted and/or not eating and sleeping well will leave you vulnerable to illness. If you get sick, you cannot provide care – and you also risk exposing your loved one to infection.

Share Your Feelings

  • You may find it helpful to share your feeling with a supportive friend, relative, fellow caregiver, or a professional counselor.
  • Sometimes it helps to let that person know that you don’t expect answers, you just need a sympathetic ear.
  • Stay away from people with negative attitudes and those who will be angry if you choose not to follow their advice.

Ask Questions

  • You are likely to get overwhelmed with information and unfamiliar terms – and it will probably occur when a decision needs to be made.
  • If you have questions about the information you were given, call the doctor.
  • If you did not understand something that you heard, or if you have more questions you forgot to ask, call the doctor.
  • It is important that you understand all the options, and the risks and benefits of each option, before you make a decision.

Managing Stress

  • Set priorities.
  • Break down large problems or tasks into manageable parts.
  • Seek diversion – see friends, laugh, see a movie, take up a craft or hobby.
  • When faced with a decision, make a list of pros and cons.
  • Set timetables/schedules. This will help prevent you becoming overwhelmed with small tasks if you hit a particularly stressful period.
  • Pace yourself – get the sleep you need and avoid overextending yourself.
  • Pick your battles and give up the need for control. Not every argument is worth winning, and trying to control everything will just exhaust you.

Time Off from Work

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal program that allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to care for a family member. There are a few eligibility guidelines.
For more information, go to the Deptartment of Labor Web site or call NBTF (toll-free) at 800-934-2873

Finding Resources

You will need to have a clear sense of what is that would be most helpful. Do you need information? Practical help with chores? Help with small children? Do you have financial concerns? Knowing what you need will help save time by going to the appropriate resource right away.

Talk with a Social Worker about respite care and available programs that can provide you with the assistance you need. The Caregiver Action Network (formerly the National Family Caregivers Association) is a not-for-profit membership organization that reaches out to all family caregivers, regardless of his or her relationship. They can be reached at 202-772-5050 or online.