Caregiving Tips to Keep Your Loved One Healthy

You can play a big role in keeping your loved one healthy. Follow these caregiving tips to make sure they are feeling their best.

Medical care. Make sure your loved one gets to all their doctor appointments. Go to some of them with them so you can keep tabs on treatment and be an advocate for them.

Come up with a list of questions and concerns to discuss with the doctor beforehand. Have you noticed any new symptoms? Are any medications causing side effects? You may notice things that your loved one doesn't realize or forgets to ask about.

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. You can simplify the process.

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 their medicine schedule is just too complicated, ask their doctor if they can simplify it by using different drugs or dosages.

Physical activity. Encourage your loved one to stay active. Exercise can improve their health, strength, sleep, and mood and can lower the risk of falls.

Try short walks around the neighborhood, or take swims at the community pool. If that doesn't appeal to them, 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. Watch for signs of depression and anxiety, and don't assume that problems will get better on their own. You may notice changes in their emotions. Their feelings might go back and forth from very sad one day, to cheerful the next, to angry after that. These swings happen less often and ease up over time, but they can last for years.

You’ll want to respect what they are going through, and also encourage them to take care of themselves.

You can:

  • Take care of their physical needs.
  • Make sure they eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, and take any medications.
  • Encourage them to see friends.
  • Encourage counseling -- whether with a therapist, clergy (if the person is religious), or a social worker.

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You can talk to your loved one's doctor about getting help from a therapist.

Good nutrition. Encourage your loved one to eat a healthy diet. When you shop, choose 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 or oven. 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 an alert bracelet or pendant that includes their name and key 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 call emergency help.

Helpful 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 tools can be an easy fix. Reach extenders allow people to get things high up without having to stand on a chair and risk a fall. Special kitchen utensils with large grips are much easier for people with arthritis to use.

Safety-proofing. Take a close look at your loved one's living space to spot any risks. Make sure there aren't tripping hazards, like loose rugs or piles of papers.

Replace burned-out lightbulbs and keep the rooms well-lit. If they have Alzheimer's, you may need to make more extensive changes, like putting locks on some cabinets and removing the knobs on the stove.

Transportation help. If you're not sure if your loved one is OK to drive, you can ask your loved one’s doctor to do a driving safety evaluation and vision, thinking, or memory tests.

It can be hard for someone to give up their car keys, even if it’s clear that they aren’t up to driving anymore. It’s really not about the driving. It’s the loss of independence. For many, driving keeps them active and involved in their communities. Not being able to get around by themselves changes everything.

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If the doctor thinks it's OK for your loved one to drive but you're still worried, you can suggest some things that may ease your stress.

  • Agree that your loved one will drive only during the day.
  • Make sure the car is in good shape.
  • Make drives to the grocery store something you do together every week.
  • Offer to take your loved one in for regular eye and health exams.
  • Ask their doctor to review their medications -- over-the-counter drugs and prescription meds -- to cut side effects.
  • Plan routes ahead of time.
  • Look into a driving safety class for older adults, and encourage your loved one to take one.
  • Keep the radio low or off, and insist on no cellphones or eating while driving.

If you've decided they'd be safer not getting behind the wheel anymore, have an honest talk with them about why they should stop driving. Suggest ways they can get around instead, so they can stay as independent as possible. Some churches offer elderly people rides to and from services. See if there's public transportation or a senior bus service they can use. There are also ride-hailing and ride-sharing services in many cities.

Home improvements. Simple changes to your loved one's home may allow them to live independently for longer. Some fixes are relatively cheap, such as adding handrails to the bathroom or replacing doorknobs with easier-to-open handles. There are also more expensive and complex improvements you can consider, like installing a stair lift.

In some cases, the home they’ve lived in and loved for years might not work so well for them now.

For example, your mom may need a bedroom and bathroom on the first floor so they don't have to climb stairs. They might need a little help and feel ready to move in with you or other relatives. If they eventually need more medical or personal care than your family can give them, you might discuss an assisted living space or a skilled nursing home.

Talk to their doctor or a social worker about what changes to make.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 18, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Administration on Aging: "Because We Care: A Guide for People Who Care."

American Family Physician web site: "Promoting and Prescribing Exercise for the Elderly."

Family Caregiver Alliance: "Hot Weather Tips," "Medications: A Double-Edged Sword."

National Alliance on Mental Illness web site: "Depression in Older Persons."

National Institute on Aging: "Caregiver Guide: Tips for Caregivers of People with Alzheimer's Disease."

Cathy Alessi, MD, internist, geriatrics specialist; past president, American Geriatrics Society.

AARP: "5 Surprising Truths About Grief."

American Hospice Foundation: "Helping a Grieving Parent."

Bisconti, T. The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 2004.

The Kent Center for Human & Organizational Development: "Holmes Stress Point Scale."

Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, director, Gerontology Center, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Western Region Geriatric Care Management: "Older Driver Safety Awareness."

Clinical Interventions in Aging: “Interventions to reduce the adverse psychosocial impact of driving cessation on older adults.”

CDC: “Important Facts About Falls,” “Check for Safety: A Home Fall Prevention Checklist for Older Adults.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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