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Caregivers provide support to someone who needs help. It doesn't matter how many hours per week are spent providing support. Caring for a family member or friend is not easy, nor is it something most of us are prepared to do. Learning about being a caregiver may help you provide the care your friend or loved one needs.

Caregiving often comes with new responsibilities and unfamiliar tasks, yet most caregivers never receive education or training. To learn more about caregiving, the decisions you may need to make, enhancing your loved one's quality of life and where you can go for help and support, visit NHPCO's CaringInfo.

Caregivers provide support to someone who needs help. It doesn't matter how many hours per week are spent providing support. Caring for a family member or friend is not easy, nor is it something most of us are prepared to do. Learning about being a caregiver may help you provide the care your friend or loved one needs.

Decision Making

You may be caring for someone who needs assistance with day-to-day chores and tasks, but can still make their own decisions about personal matters such as, medical care, and household issues.

Knowing and understanding your loved one's values and wishes will be important as you become responsible for making decisions for them. Advance care planning is the process that allows your loved one to make decisions about the care they would want to receive if they happen to become unable to speak for themselves.

Encourage your loved one to complete an advance directive. Advance directives are tools that enable people to write down their preferences on a legal form and appoint someone to speak for them if they are no longer able. Advance care planning can help ensure peace of mind for your loved one and for you, the caregiver.

Getting and Staying Organized

Keeping track of the many responsibilities of caregiving can be daunting. Organization can help you care for your loved one or friend and maximize the amount of quality time you can spend together.

Making lists of important information helps to keep you organized and will be very useful in case of an emergency. These lists and other needed information can be put into a clearly marked notebook and kept where others can easily find them. This notebook should contain enough information so that someone filling in for you will know exactly what is needed and what to do.

For example, you might make a list of all the things you need for morning and bedtime routines such as bathing items, medications, and clothing. Buy several of these items, and have them close at hand. This saves time and keeps you from having to search or leave the room for them when you are helping your loved one or friend. If you use items in several different places, such as the bathroom and bedroom, have duplicate items stored in these rooms.

You might also make lists of:

Medical personnel with their area of expertise, addresses and telephone numbers
Home healthcare agencies
Other people who can help or fill in, if you need additional help
Lawyers and financial advisors
Where needed items are kept, such as thermometers and blood pressure monitors
Medications, when they are to be taken, and where they are stored
Exercise schedules and directions
Emergency contacts in addition to 911

Home Safety

Many caregivers are supporting and caring for loved ones in their own homes, while others are caring for loved ones who are living in their own homes. Typically, most homes are not designed for caregiving.

Take some time to look closely at each room where your loved one or friend may spend time, paying special attention to the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways. With advice from your loved one or friend's healthcare team, you may need to make some changes for the comfort and safety of all who live there, keeping these points in mind:

  • Are there handrails to help move from one room to another?
  • Is there a raised toilet seat for easier sitting?
  • Are there grab bars near the toilet and bathtub for safety in standing and lowering?
  • Are there nonskid mats on the bathroom floor and in the bathtub to prevent slipping and falling?
  • Are there nightlights for safety in moving around at night?
  • Are there working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers throughout the home? Do you periodically check to ensure they are operating properly?
  • Are emergency numbers - Fire, Hospital, 911 - and contact numbers by the phone or in a convenient location?

If your loved one or friend is disabled, you will want to ensure that he or she:

  • Uses a cane or walker, if needed.
  • Has a clear path through each room, that there are no rugs or raised room dividers to trip over, and no slippery floors. You can carpet the bathroom with all weather carpeting to help prevent falls. This can be pulled up in sections, if it is wet.
  • Is secure in his or her wheelchair. If your loved one or friend is weak, a tray that attaches to the wheelchair can prevent falls and provides a place for your loved one or friend's drinks, magazines, etc.
  • Cannot fall out of bed. If the bed does not have guardrails, you can place the wheelchair or other guards next to the bed, and position your loved one or friend in the middle of the bed so that she or he can turn over without fear of falling.
Does your loved one or friend need:
  • A hospital bed or other special type of bed?
  • Walker and/or cane?
  • Wheelchair?
  • Bedside commode?
  • Lift?
  • Oxygen?
  • Can a wheelchair fit through the doorways?
  • Is a ramp needed on stairs?
  • Is it easy to walk or move from room to room without running into furniture?
  • Is there a nightlight for safety in moving around at night?
Quick, easy, and readily available ways to communicate with others are a must for you and your loved one or friend, especially in an emergency. You may borrow or purchase:
  • A cordless speaker phone with speed dial memory so that you can simply hit one button in an emergency and get help without compromising the safety of your loved one or friend. Also, phones with a large digital display for easy reading, and ring and voice enhancer, are helpful for people who have hearing problems.
  • A cellular phone, if you and your family member or friend travel or spend time outside the home.
  • A medical or home alert system which will summon help with the push of a button, if you occasionally leave your loved one or friend alone.
  • An intercom or baby monitor so you may listen to your loved one or friend when you are in another room.
  • A bell that your loved one can ring to ask for help without yelling.

Quality of Life

In addition to helping your loved one with decision making and providing physical care, as a caregiver, you can help enhance your loved one's quality of life. The following suggestions can help improve or maintain your loved one's physical and emotional well-being.

In the last weeks of life as the body naturally shuts down, your loved one will need and want less food. Offer small amounts of the food they enjoy. Since chewing takes energy, they may prefer milkshakes, ice cream or pudding.


Regardless of our age or physical condition, we want to look and feel our best. Today's clothing options make that a much easier goal to reach. When buying clothing, consider the following:

  • Slacks and skirts that have elasticized waistbands or tie waistbands are easier to get on and off and are more comfortable.
  • Clothing with snaps, zippers and/or buttons down the front are easier to manipulate.
  • Shoes that will not slip off easily, and have a non-skid tread.
  • Interchangeable and color coordinated clothing. For example, slacks and tops that can be worn with several others.
  • Clothing that is washable and wrinkle-free saves on dry cleaning bills and ironing time.


As people age, their taste buds diminish so their appetite and desire for food changes. Also, they can experience problems with chewing and swallowing. If this is a problem, please contact your doctor and ask for a nutritional consultation to help you and the person you are caring for.


In consultation with your loved one's or friend's physician and physical therapist, you can plan a routine of exercises.

Exercise, even for bed and wheelchair-bound persons, helps to improve:

  • Circulation (blood flow)
  • Lung and heart function
  • Posture
  • Mental alertness

Community Resources

Your local Area Agency on Aging or the Eldercare Locator and other organizations may offer services to assist you. These may include Meals on Wheels, caregiver training classes, transportation, friendly visitors and respite care so that you can have a break. Following is a list of helpful services that may assist you with your care giving responsibilities:

Home Care
There are many types of home care and it is important to think about what type of services you need before contacting an agency. Home care services can include medical care, social support and help with chores or tasks of daily living. Services are delivered in the home or a non-medical living facility such as a senior living community to people recovering from an accident or surgery, those who are disabled and people who are seriously ill.

Home care can help if there are ongoing care needs that family and friends cannot take care of alone.
Home Health Care
There must be a medical need to receive home health care. Home health care includes skilled nursing care, as well as other skilled care services, like physical and occupational therapy, speech- language therapy, and medical social services. These services are given by a variety of skilled health care professionals at home. The goal of short-term home health care is to provide treatment for an illness or injury. Ask the doctor if your family member or friend is eligible for these services.
Non Medical Home Care
If your friend or loved one needs help with non-medical tasks or simply needs companionship you may want to consider hiring a non-medical home care worker. These workers may help with household chores including cooking, laundry, shopping, cleaning, bill paying and driving your loved one to appointments. One of the benefits of this type of service is companionship with someone new who is focused on caring for and talking with your loved one.
Cleaning and Yard Work Services
Your local Area Agency on Aging may be able to arrange for chore and yard maintenance services or put you in touch with religious, scout or other volunteer groups that provide one-time or occasional services to older persons who need help.
Senior Centers
Senior Centers offer older people a safe environment where they can take part in a range of activities led by trained personnel. Meal and nutrition programs, information and assistance, health and wellness programs, recreational and arts programs, transportation services, volunteer opportunities, educational opportunities, employee assistance, intergenerational programs, social and community action opportunities and other special services are often available through a senior center.
Adult Day Care Services
For older persons with serious limitations in their mobility, those who are frail, and those who have medical and cognitive problems, adult day care centers can provide care in a safe, structured environment. Adult day care services include personal and nursing care, congregate meals, therapeutic exercises, and social and recreational activities. Most adult day care centers, like senior centers, are supported through public and non-profit organizations. Fees may range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars a day, depending on the services needed.

To locate an adult day care provider in your area visit the National Adult Day Services Association's Website and click on Find an Adult Day Service.
Meal Programs
To find out about home-delivered meals programs and other meals programs, you can contact Meals on Wheels, the National Eldercare Locator or the State or Area Agency on Aging. If these meals are not available, see if your grocery store prepares food orders for pick-up or if it provides home-delivery service.