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Caregiving and Your Loved One's Health

As a caregiver, you can't always make your loved one healthy. But by making sure that he or she gets good medical care -- and fostering a healthy environment and lifestyle -- you can make a real difference. Here are some key caregiving tips. 

  • Medical care. Make sure your loved one gets to doctor appointments. Caregivers may also want to tag along to at least some appointments and serve as medical advocates. Come up with a list of questions and concerns to discuss with the doctor beforehand. Have you noticed any new symptoms? Might any medications be causing side effects? You will notice things that your loved one won't realize or remember to mention. 
  • Medication safety. Many seniors take a lot of medicines. It's easy to get confused, skipping a dose of one drug and taking a double dose of another. Caregivers can try to simplify the process as much as possible. Get a large, easy-to-read weekly pillbox and help set it up. Use timers or alarms to remind your loved one to take medicine. And if your loved one's medicine schedule is just too complicated, ask his doctor if it could be simplified by using different drugs or dosages. 
  • Physical activity. As a caregiver, try to encourage your loved one to stay active. Exercise can improve physical health, strength, sleep, and mood while also reducing the risk of falls. Try short walks around the neighborhood or take swims at the community pool. If that doesn't appeal, encourage an activity like gardening. Of course, it's always a good idea to check with your loved one's doctor before you start any sort of formal exercise program. 
  • Mental health. Depression and anxiety are real risks for people who are chronically ill. Watch for the signs and don't assume that issues will resolve on their own. Caregivers can go to their loved one's doctor or get the help of a therapist. 
  • Good nutrition. Encourage your loved one to eat a healthy diet. You can help by shopping together and choosing nutritious foods that are easy to prepare. You and other caregivers can bring over frozen meals that you've made for reheating in the microwave -- just make sure they're clearly labeled and dated. You should also take a look in the fridge and cabinets to make sure that your loved one isn't at risk of eating food that's gone bad. 
  • Medical ID jewelry. Get your loved one a medical ID bracelet or pendant that includes his or her name and pertinent medical information in case of an emergency. You could also consider signing up for a service that provides medical jewelry with an alarm that can summon emergency help. 
  • Assistive devices. See if your loved one is having trouble doing basic tasks -- like using a can opener or turning on the faucet. Simple and often inexpensive devices can be an easy fix. Reach extenders allow people to get things high up without having to stand on a chair, risking a fall. Special kitchen utensils with large grips are much easier for people with arthritis to use. 
  • Overheating. As people age, their bodies don't regulate heat as well. Medications can also interfere with their ability to sense temperature accurately. Many older people can feel cold even on warm days. This can sometimes become a serious problem. If your elderly mother is outside gardening in a sweater and jacket on a 100-degree day, she's at serious risk of heat stroke. 
  • Safety-proofing. Caregivers need to take a hard look at their loved ones' living space to identify any potential dangers. Make sure that there aren't tripping hazards, like loose rugs or piles of papers. Replace burned out light bulbs and assure that the rooms are well-lit. If your loved one has Alzheimer's, you may need to make more extensive changes, like putting locks on some cabinets and removing the knobs on the stove.
  • Home improvements. Making simple changes to a loved one's home -- for safety and ease -- often allows elderly people to live independently for longer. Fixes can range from the cheap and simple (adding hand rails to the bathroom, replacing doorknobs with easier-to-open handles) to the expensive and complex (installing stair lifts). Caregivers can talk to their loved one's doctor or a social worker about what changes to consider.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 10, 2012
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