10 Things Every Family Caregiver Must Have

Picture of a checklist

[By Shelly Webb]  Has this happened to you? You plan a trip to visit a parent and when you arrive, it is clearly evident that they need help and that it’s necessary for you to step in IMMEDIATELY. It is the rare occasion when a family member eases into the caregiving role; it is generally a role that a person is thrust into unexpectedly. Here are 10 things you must have in order to be a good family caregiver.

1. The Willingness To Be a Caregiver
Not everyone should be a caregiver and to choose to be one out of obligation or guilt is not a good idea. There is no shame in participating in the caregiving in a different way – perhaps financially, perhaps by handling the paperwork or by researching options for your loved-one’s care.

2. Knowledge of Your Loved-One’s Medical Condition 
Once you’ve made the decision that you’ll take on the duties of a caregiver, one of the first things you need to become aware of is your loved-one’s medical conditions. Write down the ones that you know about and do some research about those conditions. Then set up an appointment with your loved-one’s physician and accompany them to this appointment. This brings up the 3rd third you must have.

3. A List of MDs and Current Medications
This list should be kept with you at all times because every physician, home health worker, social worker or hospital who sees your loved one will want to know this information.

4. A Health Care Proxy 
This is a document that gives permission for you to receive information from doctors, hospitals and other health care providers about your loved one. You may be able to obtain this from a physician or hospital and simply have your loved-one sign it. Check the rules in your state as to whether you need an attorney’s help with this.

5. A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
This is a document that will need to be obtained from an attorney (it’s best to see one that specializes in elder law) and that allows you to make decisions regarding your loved-one’s medical care in case they are not able to do so themselves. In this document, your loved-one can specify using an advance directive just what kinds of medical treatment that they are will to accept should a life threatening event happen (things such as feeding tubes, ventilators, etc.)

6. Knowledge of What and Where Your Loved One’s Important Documents Are Kept
This is pretty self explanatory except that if you discover that your loved one has advancing dementia, these papers may be difficult to find. Additionally, your loved one may not want you to know. This is when it becomes important to have “the talk”.

7. A Visit From an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists (OTs) have been underutilized in the past but they are paramount to the success of caring for an elder. An OT can make a visit to your loved-one’s home (or your home), evaluate it and suggest equipment and home modifications that will make it much safer and easier for the elder to remain in at home for a much longer time.

8. An Organizational Tool 
A binder that contains all important information needed for the caregiving of your elder and that can be grabbed quickly and transported easily is essential. In it, you’ll want insurance information, a history of medical problems, a family history, a list of your loved one’s doctors and medications, a list of all diagnostic tests that have been performed and their results, a place to write notes when attending health care visits, and folders to keep receipts until they can be filed at a later date. You can find an excellent organizational tool for sale at IntentionalCaregiver.com.

9. An Intention to Care for Yourself
In order to be a good caregiver, you must care for yourself first. You cannot draw water from a well that is not replenished, nor can you expect that your own body will have a never-ending supply of energy.  You must be intentional (and by that I mean that you must train yourself) to get enough rest, food, exercise, quiet time, laughter, time away from your loved one, time for spiritual replenishment, and time with friends.  I know that this seems impossible, but like with anything else, with practice, it becomes easier.

10. A Support Group
When caregiving, it’s often difficult to find time just to get away and one of the last ways you may want to spend your very precious time is by attending a support group. They are important though as they can provide not just support from people who are feeling the same way you are but also a wealth of information about resources you may need.
If you absolutely cannot get out of the house, you can now find several good support groups on the internet.
Support also comes by way of family members and friends who are willing to relieve you of your caregiving duties for a specified amount of time. I would advise you not to believe that they understand what are you going through though, because they won’t. And as you ask for support from them, be sure not to forget to reciprocate in some way, however small.  Although caregiving is never easy, by utilizing this arsenal of caregiving “must-haves”, you will feel more competent to fulfill your caregiving role.

About the Author
Shelley Webb has been a registered nurse for almost 30 years, with experience in the fields of neonatal intensive care, dialysis, case management and eldercare. When her father came to live with her in 2005, the advantages of her medical experience became clear. Due to his dementia and congestive heart failure, her father was not able to care for himself alone any longer and so she took over these duties.
Having experienced the helplessness, frustration, overwhelm and even loneliness that caregiving for an aging parent brings, Shelley is well aware of the emotional and educational support that caregivers need and so she began The Intentional Caregiver web site. With its weekly newsletter, daily news updates and monthly audio interviews of experts in eldercare and supporting services, Shelley strives to encourage and educate caregivers so that they can be empowered to provide the best possible care for themselves while caring for their aging loved one(s).
In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, raising chickens, ballet classes and wine tasting. Please see: http://www.IntentionalCaregiver.com

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