Two years ago I became caregiver to my father who moved to an assisted living facility in my hometown. Despite his independent ways, here’s what I learned observing Dad and his fellow residents. These tips should make daily life easier for your loved one.
First and foremost, provide love and patience. Say “I love you” every day.
- Invest in a medical alert necklace. Most assisted facilities include this but if your loved one is still living at home, he or she will need one. It will give you peace of mind.
- Post list of medications (with dosage in mg) on the kitchen cabinet or somewhere easily seen by EMTs. Keep a copy in your wallet and your loved one’s wallet for easy access at the doctor’s office. Be sure to update it when prescriptions change.
- Post phone numbers of family members next to the medication list.
- Use a thick black Sharpie for all notes. Print legibly.
- Label everything. You can purchase custom printed labels with your loved one’s name.
- Program the phone to speed dial family members, friends, and neighbors. Post the speed dial number for each person directly above or next to the phone.
- Buy a large clock that displays the time, date and time of day; e.g., Monday morning, 9:45 AM, February 13, 2017.
- Ask Comcast for a large TV remote control. (They’re free.) Tape over the buttons you know your loved one will not use to avoid confusion.
- Print out frequently watched TV stations in large font.
- Use a desktop blotter calendar on the dining or kitchen table to note appointments and family events.
- Keep a box of tissues in every room.
- Get rid of obstacles such as scatter rugs, floor plants, and door wreaths.
- Ensure common pathways and stairs are clear of objects.
- Keep counters free of clutter.
- Install grab bars at the front and back entries of the home.
- When you visit your loved one, scan the rooms for anything that looks out of place. Check the pill sorter. Check under the bed and chairs. A dirt spot on the rug may actually be dried blood. If you find graham crackers in the microwave or summer clothes out in winter, then your loved one’s mental acuity is declining.
In The Kitchen
- Buy small water bottles. (The large ones are difficult to handle.) Unscrew the perforated tops and tighten again before storing in the fridge so they are easier to open.
- Keep a few bottles of Gatorade and Ensure in the fridge.
- Put straws on the counter top.
- Keep snacks in the cupboard such as peanut butter crackers, nuts, or unsalted pretzels.
- Stock the freezer with single serving containers of soup and stew that can be easily defrosted and reheated in the microwave.
- Cover oven knobs with tape if you don’t want your loved one to use it.
- Cover electric range burners with metal covers.
In The Bathroom
- Apply thick red tape on the shower threshold and around grab bars.
- Install grab bars: by the toilet, just outside the shower stall by the nozzle, in the shower.
- Buy a shower seat if it doesn’t have a built-in one.
- Apply grips on the shower floor.
- Buy a shower brush with a long handle so your loved one can reach their back and feet.
- Use a bathmat with rubber bottom grip.
- Install an elevated toilet seat.
- Offer to file or clip your loved one’s fingernails. Often they can do one hand’s nails with their dominant hand but struggle with the other.
In The Medicine Cabinet
- Unwrap the soap. Often they come in packs of three and the cellophane is difficult to open.
- Buy an electric toothbrush.
- Squeeze the toothpaste to the top of the tube.
- Unlock the mouthwash lid so it’s easier to open.
- Buy dental picks that are easier to use than dental floss.
- Toss used razors.
In The Bedroom
- Hang shirts in the closet without buttoning the top button. It’ll be one less challenge to getting dressed in the morning.
- Roll cleaned socks instead of inserting one into the other; it’ll be easier for your loved one to get dressed.
- If incontinence pads are used, unwrap the pad from its wrapper and stack next to underwear in the same drawer.
- Buy shoes with Velcro fasteners. If your loved one is diabetic, there are plenty of options online.
- Keep a shoehorn nearby.
- Use a tabletop humidifier.
- Be proactive and buy a walker or cane when you observe an unsteady gait. Don’t wait for your loved one to fall.
- If your loved one uses a roll cart type of walker, make sure the tires are inflated properly. Adjust it for height. Teach your loved one to lock it into place before sitting down.
- Keep the following items in the pouch of a walker or roll cart:
- Water bottle
- Lens wipes
- Handheld magnifying glass
- Hand sanitizer
In Your Car
- Keep extra water bottles.
- Keep a blanket.
- There are adapters you can buy to make getting into and out of a car easier for your loved one such as a vehicle support handle and standing aid.
- Apply for a disabled parking placard through your state RMV. It requires approval from the primary care physician. This will come in handy when you take your loved one to the doctor’s office and shopping.
- Play CDs such as Sinatra, classical music, or your loved one’s favorites.
At Your House
Keep a pair of slippers and a cardigan sweater.
Finances / Legal
- Add your name to the checking account. This will make life easier when your loved one passes or is unable to write checks.
- Address end of life matters while your loved one is healthy.
- DNR (do not resuscitate) forms must be completed in the presence of a doctor. Keep a copy in their home, in your home, and in the glove compartment of your car (in case you have to make an emergency trip to the hospital).
- Complete a Health Care Proxy. Keep copies with DNR.
- POA (power of attorney) forms needs to be notarized.
- Ensure the will is completed.
- Discuss home ownership, i.e., whether your loved one wants to transfer ownership from his or her name to reduce assets. Laws vary by state.
- Discuss when to take away the car keys.
Finally, remember the healing power of touch. Hold hands, pat her back, rub his shoulders, brush her hair, take a walk, look at photos, read to him, do a crossword puzzle together. Reminisce. Ask questions to get him talking about his family history, her youth, jobs, favorite vacation spots, and hobbies. Like me, as a caregiver to the elderly, you will receive much more than you give.