What is one tactic that will make a caregiver’s life easier?

As a caregiver, I’ve learned that I can do anything, but I cannot do everything. If we try to do everything, we wind up stressed, exhausted and burned out. There is always more to do than one person can possibly handle. If we focus on the fact that others aren’t doing enough to help, we waste our energies on anger and resentment. Instead, think broadly about building your caregiving team.

Our loved ones need a wide variety of support including hands-on help like personal care, and hands-off help like managing finances or shopping. Family members may not make up most of your team, so think about friends, neighbors, volunteers, faith-based organizations, paid help, local service providers, disease-specific organizations and the caregiving information and resources available to you from organizations like AARP. Remember that people who support you are a big help. Sometimes it’s easier to find people who will help you with your home, errands, sorting mail or making meals so you can be available to do the things you need to do for your loved ones.   

What is the biggest safety risk you’ve seen with caregivers and their loved ones?

Too often I hear from caregivers whose loved ones have had a fall, or who have injured themselves when trying to help loved ones walk, climb stairs, get up from or transfer from a chair, wheelchair, toilet, bathtub or bed. One in four people over age 65 fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of death among that age group.

It’s important to get an assessment and training from a physical therapist and/or occupational therapist to determine if your loved ones need and are using mobility aids appropriately. As family caregivers we also need training about how to help loved ones move safely without hurting ourselves in the process. Have your loved ones’ home evaluated to determine if home modifications to prevent falls are needed. Move laundry facilities to the main floor to avoid carrying laundry baskets while navigating stairs. An upstairs bedroom may need to be moved to the main floor, or consider a small elevator or chair lift to ride to upper levels. Pay special attention to the bathroom, one of the most common places for falls. A raised toilet seat with hand-rails, a shower chair and a walk-in shower can help. It’s also a good idea to equip loved ones with a personal emergency response system (PERS) or medical alert so that they can receive emergency assistance if they should fall.

How can caregivers prepare their home or facility to provide quality care?

Quality care, whether in a home or facility, includes a safe environment, appropriate health care and opportunities to enhance quality of life. You’ll have more control over these factors when caregiving at home. In a facility it’s vital that family caregivers play a strong role in ensuring ongoing quality care. Wherever they live is home, so make it comfortable, attractive and livable. To prepare think about the current and future needs of your loved ones: evaluate the environment for safety and make home modifications as needed; allow adequate room for medical equipment and mobility aids; create space for loved ones to enjoy their hobbies and favorite pastimes; ensure there is room for visitors; prepare for special diets and preferences; incorporate their favorite items into the home or facility. Above all, ask what is important to them as they receive care.