Caregivers play an essential role in taking care of elderly patients and parents. Often though, caregivers are not registered nurses or medical professionals, but relatives and loved ones thrust into the role by circumstance. Taking care of the elderly can be a tough task for both the caregiver and the patient, and not much training is given to those caregivers taking care of the elderly.
Most elderly people require care when they lose the ability to take care of themselves on a daily basis or illnesses and disabilities get in the way of their ability to live as normally as possible. These usually include basic daily tasks, like grooming, using the toilet, eating and moving in and out of chairs and other furniture. They also may require care if they are unable to do the things that make an independent life, like handling money, grocery shopping, driving a car or using the telephone. Taking care of the elderly requires a caregiver to not only be attuned to the person’s medical needs, but take care of their daily needs as well. Often, daily living problems may arise slowly in an elderly person, like having difficulty with zippers and snaps on clothing, or difficulty opening pill bottles or completely forgetting to take pills altogether. This may be due to general effects of aging, or a memory disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Taking care of the elderly can be especially challenging for both patients and caregivers for different reasons. Formerly independent patients who were used to doing everything for themselves suddenly must rely on someone else for help performing basic tasks like bathing, cooking and dressing. Taking care of an elderly patient can also be difficult for the caregiver, as the elderly person being cared for may resist care or have difficulty adjusting to this new way of living that relies so much on another person. Caregivers can do quite a bit toward the health and wellness of an elderly relative or patient, but should work in conjunction with medical professionals for the best plan of care.
Depending on the illnesses or diseases that prevent an elderly person from living independently, a variety of medical professionals may be needed to determine the best plan of care for a patient. Physicians such as cardiologists, gastroenterologists, geriatricians, mental health professionals and physical therapists may be on the patient’s care team, and can also help caregivers determine when it is time to seek professional caregiving help inside the home. Taking care of elderly patients is not always easy, so don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. There are some precautions that can be taken for those who take care of elderly relatives to make it easier on themselves and the patient. It’s wise to keep a list of medicines, vitamins and supplements that the elderly patient is currently taking, as well as their dosage and refill dates. Bring the list to doctor’s appointments and update it often, being careful not to accidentally overdose the patient. Lock up these medicines when not in use and ask medical professionals to clearly explain major side effects or interactions of any of the medications.
Education, information and support from medical professionals is essential during this time for whoever is taking care of the elderly patient. Concerning conditions should always be brought to a doctor’s attention and in-home help should be sought if needed. Even a part-time in-home caregiver can be essential for nights or days where the primary caregiver may not be available or may need a break.
Caregiving for the elderly or taking care of an elderly patient can have some stressful mental side effects. It’s important to also take breaks and alone time to regroup and de-stress. Caregivers may feel overwhelmed, alone, isolated, may be sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing weight, feeling worried more often than normal, and may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy—all also symptoms of major depression. Depression and anxiety in caregivers who take care of elderly patients can have a drastic effect on their own health and therefore may inhibit their ability to effectively care for an elderly patient. Chronic depression and anxiety may lead to a weak immune system, a high risk for obesity, problems with memory or focus, and even more serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Those who take care of elderly patients can help relieve some of these stressful symptoms by asking and accepting help when needed, and finding community resources available in their area. Many communities have respite services to help caregivers take time to focus on their own health. Some community centers also offer helpful classes that may help them stay organized and learn more about the best practices for taking care of the elderly. With correct support and resources, taking care of the elderly can be a major success for all involved.
Resources: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/WomensHealthTopics/ucm467701.html https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/caregiver-stres http://www.healthinaging.org/resources/resource:eldercare-at-home-caregiving/ http://www.healthinaging.org/resources/resource:eldercare-at-home-problems-of-daily-living/ Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.