When giving care, there may be many things you will be asked to do that you have never done before. Learn what day-to-day duties and activities may be included in both family and non-family caregiving responsibilities, and what you need to know about providing personal and comfort care.
On a day-to-day basis, caregivers may be responsible for the majority of comfort care and personal care. Personal caregiving activities include helping with various things the patient is no longer able to do unassisted.
Basic caregiver duties could include:
- Bathing and grooming
- Laundry and helping with dressing
- Food shopping and prep
- Light housekeeping
- Managing medications
- Mobility assistance
- Companionship and emotional support
- Communicating with doctors and monitoring medications
- And much more
What should caregivers be aware of when providing personal care?
Most of us really have no experience with many of the physical aspects of giving care. Ask the doctor, nurse, home health aide what you will be expected to do. Ask them to show you how to do it. It is always a good idea to take notes, make a video or to have a friend present to record the instruction. The Family Caregiver Alliance has several videos that may be helpful.
Here are some topics that may apply:
- Lifting and Moving: What are proper techniques?
- Bedpans: What are procedures for using and cleaning?
- Pressure Ulcers: How can bedsores be prevented?
- Incontinence: What is the best way to handle it?
- Bathing and Skin Care: Are there certain products that are better?
- Oral Hygiene: How often does oral care need to be provided? Are there products that will make it easier?
- What special diet is required or special food preparations is necessary to make food easier to swallow?
- Often people will develop tastes for certain items; go with it if you can. Now is not the time to worry about fat-free or eating enough broccoli.
- Meals are something that friends and family are often happy to help with. If they provide them in disposable containers, that helps too.
Washable, no iron, easy to get on and off items make life easier.
Cell phones, tablets and computers have made communication infinitely easier as long as everyone can use them.
- Preprogramming a simple phone may be useful if the user has difficulties.
- An “old school”, but exceptionally reliable method, of calling for a caregiver is a bell; however, be aware that this method has been known to drive caregivers to distraction if overused.
Are there home safety issues family and non-family caregivers should address?
Take a look around your environment. Regular household items may become hazards when an impaired person lives there. Some healthcare centers, for instance Alzheimer’s Centers, will send someone to your home to help you identify what needs to be changed for everyone’s comfort and safety. For instance, throw or area rugs can become a tripping hazard or microwave ovens may need a child lock. Some specific accommodations to consider are:
- Handrails to move from one room to another
- Raised toilet seat for easier sitting and standing
- Grab bars near the toilet and in the shower/tub
- Non-skid mats on floors
- Nightlights –there are very reasonable LED lights with bright light and long life
- Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers
- Posting emergency numbers in an easy to see place
- Scammers are everywhere—consider getting a programmable call blocker if you have a landline phone, or programming cell phones to reject all calls not in the Contacts file.
- As time goes on, specialized equipment such as hospital beds, lifts, or wheelchairs, may be necessary. Ask your care team what would be best and how to get it.
How do family and non-family caregivers nurture connections and relationships?
It can become both time consuming and emotionally draining to communicate with all the people that care, no matter how much you may want to. Some tips that have worked for others:
- Set up a communications ‘tree’. You communicate with a core group, each of them with another group, and onwards until you have included everyone you wish. This works well with email and text, even calls.
- Set up a group on a social media site of your choice. Make privacy settings as you wish. That way one post will communicate with an entire group.
- Some people start blogs.
- Remind people that notes and emails are always welcome (but don’t feel as thought you have to respond to every one.)
- In person visits are best by people that the patient and you actually want to see.
- Feel free to refuse visits if the patient isn’t up to it or simply doesn’t want visitors. Offer to deliver a note or to pass on good wishes. This is not impolite, on the contrary, insisting on visiting is rude.
It is not uncommon to receive not only unsolicited but unwelcome, even ignorant, advice from people about treatments, what you are doing, almost anything. They may mean well, but it is truly not helpful and can be pretty upsetting. It may be useful to come up with a few stock responses, “thanks for your input”, “interesting”, and not engage much. However well-meant, they don’t know your reality.
Is there a way to make all the interactions with the healthcare system and insurance easier?
Whoever comes up with the answer to this question will become rich. A few suggestions:
- Keep meticulous records whether on paper, your phone, or whatever method is easily retrievable by you
- Identify who can or is willing to help. Often there will be a person in the doctor’s office or on the phone from the insurance company that will give you tips on their system or will help with the interaction. See if you can get their name and direct number
- Be organized and polite. Know what you are asking and have all the information they will need to answer you.
- However frustrating the exchange is, it is unlikely that the person with whom you are speaking can change their system; if you can, make them your ally rather than the enemy.
- Choose your times for dealing with these systems, some days are easier than others.