Even if caregiving isn’t something you’ve thought about yet, chances are likely that you may find yourself in that role at some point. According to a survey by the National Caregiver Alliance and the AARP Public Policy Institute, roughly 34 million adults in the U.S. are unpaid caregivers to an individual over 50 years old, with 85% providing care for a family member.
When it comes to caregiving, responsibilities often vary and may include anything from help with everyday activities like dressing and eating, to reminding a loved one to take her medicine or coordinating with assisted living staff. One thing, however, is true for all caregivers: caring for the elderly can require patience and, depending on the health of your loved one, an increasingly hands-on role in his or her life to make sure things run smoothly.
If you’re new to caregiving or looking for resources, here are some elderly care tips from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging (NIA) to help you prepare for your job as a caregiver.
Communication tips when caring for the elderly
In general, it’s a good idea to keep communication simple, direct, and positive when talking to your care recipient, especially if he or she is older or has health problems that could affect memory and cognitive skills.
The NIA suggests these tips for communicating with an elderly individual, especially one suffering from dementia:
- Establish eye contact, and use the person’s name when you speak to them.
- Touch your loved one or hold her hand to encourage conversation.
- Ask simple yes-or-no questions, such as “Are you feeling tired?” instead of open-ended questions, such as “How are you feeling?”
- Limit choices to cut down on confusion. For example, don’t say, “What would you like to wear today?” Instead, try saying, “Would you like your red sweater or your gray one?”
Elderly care tips for bathing and getting dressed
A large portion of caring for the elderly often includes help with daily living activities like bathing or getting dressed. Caregivers shouldn’t underestimate how much helping someone with grooming, bathing, and getting dressed can affect their emotional and mental well-being. Whether it’s neatly combed hair, clean clothes, or even a touch of lipstick or cologne, these seemingly small details can go a long way towards helping someone look and feel more like himself.
The NIA offers the following elderly care tips for grooming and dressing:
- Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing with elastic waistbands make it easier for your loved one to dress himself—and remove clothes in time to avoid toileting accidents.
- Lay out clothes in the order they are put on (underwear, pants, shirt, sweater, for example) and encourage your loved one to dress herself as long as possible.
- If brushing teeth after meals is difficult, rinsing with water or mouthwash is a good oral care alternative.
- Use a sturdy shower chair and hand-held showerhead to reduce the chance of falls.
- A daily sponge bath and a full bath or shower twice a week is adequate for most individuals.
- Washing hair in the sink with a hose may be easier on both of you than doing it in the tub or shower.
How caregivers can check for safety hazards to prevent falls
Falls are one of the most common—and most dangerous—accidents than can happen when you are caring for the elderly, so it’s important to be on guard for safety risks in your loved one’s home. A thorough inventory of potential hazards could help prevent accidents.
The NIA recommends the following home safety tips for older adults:
- Remove small throw rugs. Use double-sided adhesive tape to firmly attach any large area rugs.
- Be sure all electrical cords are tacked to the baseboards and out of the way.
- Remove extra furniture that interferes with easy movement between rooms.
- Install handrails and grab bars along stairways, next to the toilet, and in the bath or shower.
- Don’t let clutter pile up on the floor.
- Make sure all rooms have adequate lighting and install night-lights in bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways.
How caregivers can encourage loved ones to exercise
Physical activity and exercise helps keep the heart, muscles, and joints in better shape, and promotes a good night’s sleep, so look for ways to help your loved one stay active as much as his or her condition permits. Remember to always ask your care recipient’s doctor before starting any new activities or exercises.
The NIA offers these suggestions to encourage an active lifestyle if you’re caring for an elderly individual:
- If possible, take a daily walk together (walking is good for you as a caregiver, too).
- Let your loved one help with household tasks such as dusting, sweeping, gardening, or raking leaves if he is able.
- If your loved one isn’t mobile, tossing a balloon or soft rubber ball back and forth is a good option. Rubber exercise bands may also be appropriate.
- If walking is difficult, your loved one may enjoy riding a stationary bike, which may also be lower impact on knees and joints.
Make sure your loved one stays properly hydrated, especially if you are outdoors in warm weather. Offer water, juice, or a sports drink after exercise.
For more information on elderly care and coverage options
Caring for an aging parent or loved one can be a daunting task. Hopefully, you’ve learned some helpful tips as you take on this role. If you’re caring for someone with Medicare and have questions about coverage, I can help you find options that may work for your loved one. To get started, simply click the Get Quotes button to schedule a phone call or to request a personalized email.
National Alliance for Caregiving, “2015 Report: Caregiving in the U.S.,”