Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on August 11, 2021
Ask Questions

Ask Questions


To give your loved one the best care, you have to understand their needs. Set aside time to talk. Find out how they feel and what they want you to do for them.

Don't argue or insist your own opinion is best. Offer ideas, but listen to what they have to say. Show that you've heard by repeating back key points, like, "I understand that you want to do more for yourself."

Create a Schedule

Create a Schedule


When you care for someone at home, days can feel long and unfocused. Give them structure by making a schedule. Set times for meals, personal care, household chores, exercise, activities, and relaxation. Also set sleep and wake times to make sure both of you get enough rest.

When you make the schedule, think about your loved one's needs. Consider how they organized their day before you got involved.

Get Organized

Get Organized


Paperwork can pile up. To keep things running smoothly, put prescriptions, insurance info, doctor contacts, and health history in one place, like a multi-pocket folder. Keep track of appointments in a paper, computer, or smartphone calendar.

Set an alarm to remind you twice: a day or two, and a few hours ahead of time. Add your own appointments to the calendar to avoid schedule conflicts, and plan for days when you won't be around to help.

Keep Track of Medicines

Keep Track of Medicines


More than a third of older adults take five or more drugs to treat different conditions. All those meds can lead to mix-ups and mistakes. Go over the list with your loved one's doctor and pharmacist to make sure every medication and dose is correct.

Store all medicines in one place for easy access. Use a pillbox to keep organized by day and time. Do an inventory every few months, and throw out any expired pills.

Simplify Meals

Simplify Meals


It takes time to prepare three meals a day. Planning ahead can help. Do all the week's grocery shopping in one trip. Cook a big batch of meals and freeze them.

Ask friends and family members to chip in. Set up a rotating schedule where each person shops for groceries, or brings over a whole cooked meal. When you cook, adapt dishes to your loved one's taste as well as calorie and dietary needs, like low salt or extra B vitamins.

Make the Home Safe

Make the Home Safe


Avoid falls and injuries with a few changes around the house. Install grab bars and handrails in the bathroom to help prevent shower and tub slips. Add lights along hallways and stairways to lighten nighttime bathroom trips. Secure rugs with tape and pick up clutter. Store often-used items within reach so your loved one doesn't have to stretch or climb. Buy a fall monitor to alert you, and call 911 if they do take a spill.

Ask for Advice

Ask for Advice


If you're a first-time caregiver, you probably have a lot to learn. Get help from an expert like a geriatric care doctor, nurse, or therapist. They can teach you how to:

  • Take over personal care tasks like bathing and dressing
  • Manage bladder and bowel problems
  • Lift the person safely without hurting them, or your back
  • Make healthy meals that are easy to eat
  • Adapt the home for safety and easy access


Recruit a Team

Recruit a Team


If you can't handle all the care on your own, put together an on-call group of family members and friends who can step in and help. Give each person one or more tasks. They can help prepare meals or run errands.

You can also hire someone to cook, clean, or handle daily personal and medical tasks, like helping your loved one dress, bathe, and take medicine. Your local agency on aging can help you find the right helper for each type of task.

Encourage Self-Care

Encourage Self-Care


Help keep your loved one's age, illness, or disability from taking a toll on their self-esteem. You can restore their feeling of control by letting them take as active a part as possible in their own care.

Encourage them to make decisions and do tasks they can manage -- like dressing or using the toilet. Let them help choose and plan activities. It will give them a sense of purpose, and make your job easier.

Prepare for Emergencies

Prepare for Emergencies


Plan for the unexpected. Ask the doctor what symptoms to watch out for, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, or dizziness, and what to do if they happen.

Next to each phone in the home, keep a list of emergency names and numbers, including:

  • Medical, fire, or police numbers (911 or a local number)
  • Primary care doctor
  • Preferred hospital
  • Poison control
  • Family and friends


Show Sources













AARP: "Prepare to Care."

Alzheimer's Association: "Creating a Daily Plan." "Communication in Caregiving."

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: "How to Create a Caregiving Plan."

Family Caregiver Alliance: "Caregivers' Guide to Medications and Aging."

National Care Planning Council: "The Caregiver's Handbook."

National Institutes of Health: "Fall Proofing Your Home."

Penn Medicine: "Caregiving: Getting Organized and Mobilizing Help."

UpToDate: "Drug Prescribing for Older Adults."