Tools to get started and tips on how to be a caregiver

Picture of holding hands for article on how to be a caregiver

Caregivers juggle a lot of big responsibilities every day. In addition to regular family and household duties, you have the additional challenge of managing the various routines and schedules necessary to care for your sick or disabled loved one. You have appointments to keep, medicines to manage, routines to maintain and your own well-being to ensure. Sometimes you may feel like the little things are slipping through the cracks. There are tools to help you stay on track so you can stay focused and feel in control.

One important thing you can do is create and maintain a comprehensive file of information about the person you are caring for. Consider including the following items in this file:

  • Medical history, including diagnosis, physician contact information, allergies and health history (for example, surgeries and other medical conditions).
  • Insurance information, including private medical insurance, prescription, Medicare/Medicaid, long-term care insurance and dental and vision insurance.
  • Legal documents, including Living Will, durable power of attorney for health care (also known as a health care proxy), power of attorney for finances and contact information for lawyer.
  • Medication list: An up-to-date medication list is an important tool for the family caregiver and doctors. With the number of medications some people take, keeping them straight can easily become overwhelming. Include all the prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements your loved one takes. List the name, how much should be taken, when it should be taken and the reason for taking it. Make multiple copies: one for you to carry; one for your file; one on the refrigerator for paramedics to find in an emergency; and one for the doctor.
  • Doctor’s visit checklist: You may want to go with your loved one to doctor’s appointments. This way, you can work together as members of the health care team and ensure that you both understand the doctor’s treatment decisions. Here is a checklist to help you make the most of your doctor’s visit.

Before the Visit

  • Write down all questions or any concerns you might have so you don’t forget them
  • Update the medication list
  • Call to confirm the appointment

During the Visit

  • Bring the updated medication list
  • Clearly report all of your loved one’s symptoms
  • Ask your questions and record the answers
  • Record doctor’s instructions
  • Discuss recommendations
  • Verify next steps

After the Visit

  • Review your notes
  • Check prescriptions
  • Discuss the visit with loved one
  • Update your calendar
  • Call for test results
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Put your pills where you will see them. For example, if you take a pill with breakfast, put your pills on the breakfast table. Put a reminder note where you will see it — on your coffee cup, for instance, or on the bathroom mirror, if you take the medicine in the morning …