More than three in 10 American households report that at least one person has served as an unpaid family caregiver within the past year — that’s 65.7 million people, according to a recent, comprehensive study, Caregiving in the U.S. 2009 . Most provide unpaid care for other adults age 50+. The task of caregiving is enormous. Caregivers often put themselves at the bottom of the list of people who need care. In doing so, they put their own health at risk and often end up isolating themselves from their social networks.
How you can help
You can help a caregiver in many ways — for example, giving their loved one rides to the doctor’s office, organizing medicine, preparing meals or finding resources that can help families. It’s always good to remind caregivers that if they let others help them, they may avoid burn-out. When you support a caregiver, you’re helping both the caregiver and the loved one they care for.
You can choose the time commitment that works best for you. It could be a one-time offer of help with an errand or a special project. Or you might find that you want to devote time each week to helping a caregiver. The ideas in this guide require varying levels of commitment.
*Always remember* to ensure that you do not have a cold or other contagious conditions when visiting a care recipient.
Getting Started in 3 Steps
Step 1: YOUR TIME, YOUR TALENT
Determine how much time you may have to devote and in what ways you can contribute most by using your talents and skills. Lighten the load of the caregiver with your unique abilities.
Step 2: DETERMINE YOUR AREA OF INTEREST
There are many areas in which you can help. Caregivers often need help with basic daily tasks, such as chores around the house, grocery shopping or getting their loved ones to medical appointments. Besides assisting with these tasks, you might consider helping a caregiver in a variety of other areas. This project guides provides tips for the following areas (tip sheets may also be downloaded from the Supplemental Materials and Information section below).
These areas include:
- Navigate public benefits: Help someone find and understand federal, state and private programs that help cover the costs of food, medicine and utilities for the caregiver or the care recipient.
- Find transportation
- Perform home safety updates
- Adopt healthy behaviors
- Manage health and medication records
Simply distributing the Tip Sheets in the guide is a great way to help others.
Step 3: AGREE TO A FIRST STEP
Offer to help in some small way and then check in to see if more help is of interest. If you begin to help more often, try to plan a regular schedule. Keeping designated times improves quality of life for the caregiver and the person receiving care. If the caregiver knows you’re dependable, he or she can plan outings, doctor visits, rest and renewal times and even fun activities.
Tips for Navigating Public Benefits
Many caregivers are not aware that their loved ones could receive support from government programs to cover the cost of necessities. Complicating the problem are challenging application processes. Each program’s application and eligibility requirements can be different.
Help a Caregiver
Help a caregiver access AARP Benefits QuickLINK, an online benefits inventory sponsored by the AARP Foundation. You can use this FREE online tool to determine eligibility for public assistance programs. These programs can help cover expenses such as groceries, utilities, health care and prescriptions. In 15 minutes or less, with Benefits QuickLINK, you can help a caregiver find out whether his or her loved one might be eligible for programs, get applications for the programs, and find out where to apply. All this can be done without ever entering a bank account or Social Security number — and any information that is entered is strictly confidential.
Someone who has a monthly income of around $1,700 a month or less and/or who struggles to make ends meet has a good chance at being eligible for benefits.
Log on to a computer and go to www.aarp.org/quicklink.
Online Resources and Tools
In addition to Benefits QuickLINK, you can find expert advice, free education and helpful information on Medicare, financial relief, food assistance, choosing an appropriate prescription drug plan and more by using the free tools listed below:
Medicare - www.medicare.gov
Medicare Interactive Tool - www.medicareinteractive.org/index.php
Medicare Part D Guide - www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/medicare_partD_guide/
Doughnut Hole Calculator - doughnuthole.aarp.org
Food Assistance-Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) - www.aarp.org/snap.
Finding Relief in Tough Times - www.aarp.org/realrelief
Tips for Finding Transportation Options
Caregivers often report that they are interested in receiving help with transportation services for their loved one who can no longer drive. Alternative transportation options become crucial to a care recipient’s independence and ability to stay connected to their community and the people and services that support their quality of life. Caregivers may not know how to find these alternative transportation services in their neighborhoods — and they may feel stressed driving their loved ones around town.
The best public transportation services in your community are clean, safe, reliable and user-friendly — as well as accessible and affordable. The Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov/ELDERCARE.NET/Public/Resources/Topic/Transportation.aspx) or your local transit agency may provide helpful information.
Help a Caregiver
Volunteers can help caregivers by exploring transportation options in the care recipient’s neighborhood. As a helper, you can give a ride to a caregiver and/or the one they care for — or you can find a volunteer driving program in your community.
The Eldercare Locator or your local transit agency may provide helpful information on clean, safe, accessible and affordable public transportation.
Investigate available transportation services for older adults who don’t drive in your community. Many programs provide door-to-door and/or door-through-door rides. Some can even arrange for a driver to stay with his or her passengers at a destination until they are ready to return home. Getting the facts on transportation services takes another burden off the caregiver’s shoulders.
Please check your auto insurance policy if you decide to become a volunteer driver.
Volunteers may explore options including reliable public transportation, taxis, car services and on-demand services like dial-a-ride or volunteer drivers. For care recipients to retain their independence, it is essential that they have access to reliable transportation.
Find information on safe, affordable and accessible transportation choices.
Your Local Transit Agency - www.publictransportation.org/systems
Easter Seals Senior Transportation Toolkit - http://es.easterseals.com/site/DocServer/Transportation_Solutions.pdf?docID=2081
The American Public Transportation Association - www.apta.com/resources/links
AARP Driver Safety Program - www.aarp.org/drive
Linking Transportation and Housing Solutions for Older Adults - http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/ppi/liv-com/fs170-transportation-housing.pdf
Tips for Home Safety
By 2020 the Census Bureau estimates seven to eight million people in the U.S. will be over the age of 85 — and many of these older adults will live in homes that no longer match their needs and abilities. Most people would like to stay in their home as long as possible, and caregivers often face the challenge of making sure their loved one’s home is safe and comfortable.
Help a Caregiver
Learn easy steps you can take to ensure the home can support the changing needs and lifestyle of their loved one as long as possible. You can help reduce the risk of accidents in the house and provide more peace of mind for the caregiver.
Home design can make a big difference in whether your loved ones can continue to stay in their home comfortably and safely. Discover how small, simple updates to a home may make it easier for the caregiver to help their loved ones go about their daily activities while staying comfortable, independent and injury-free in their home.
Volunteers can help to assess these simple safety questions:
- Do doorknobs, cabinet handles and faucets have lever handles, which are easier to use than rounded knobs?
- Does the bathtub and/or shower have a nonslip surface?
- Are hallways and staircases well lit?
- Are there secure handrails on both sides of stairways?
- Can you replace traditional light switches with lower-placed rocker-style light switches and thermostat controls?
These are just a few no-cost/low-cost things to help make a home more comfortable and safe to live in.
Help reduce falls by installing a seat in the shower, putting handrails on both sides of the stairway and using brighter, non-glare lights.
Help to assess the home to identify potential issues early. That way you can explore options for fixing problems and see what kind of budget may be needed to make any major changes. A great volunteer activity is to go room by room with the caregiver using Home Safety Tips & Tools to identify potential safety issues. Then you may want to contact a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (www.nahb.org/directory.aspx?sectionID=1391&directoryID=188#) who can identify, recommend and/or provide home modifications.
Universal Design Principles - www.aarp.org/home-garden/home-improvement/info-09-2009/what_is_universal_design.html
Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists - www.aarp.org/home-garden/home-improvement/info-03-2004/caps.html
Tips for Adopting Healthy Behaviors
Caregiving can be rewarding, but it is also demanding. In a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, researchers found that more than half the people who provide extensive care for their parents experience stress and strain.
One in five caregivers says the greatest challenge is that their responsibility for the loved one diminishes their personal time and impacts their lifestyle. By helping a caregiver take care of him or herself, you’re helping both caregivers and the people they care for.
Help a Caregiver
Stress can negatively affect overall health, well-being and the ability to provide care. Help a caregiver by sharing some of the immediate benefits of adopting an active, healthy lifestyle, such as:
- Increased energy
- Lower blood pressure
- Better sleep
- Reduced tension and stress
- Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers
- Elevated mood (a clinically proven benefit of exercise)
When you help caregivers find respite, they can have time to use some of the tips below to nurture themselves. Share this list with the caregiver you’re supporting:
Be social. This may take advance planning, but it’s worth it. Isolation increases stress, while having good times with friends and family helps to balance your emotions.
Stress the importance of taking care of your own needs. You can offer the best support when your physical, mental and emotional self is in prime shape.
Ask friends and relatives for help. Make a list of tasks you need to get accomplished and ask friends and relatives to help complete and cross off the tasks. Loved ones who live far away can still provide plenty of support.
Reach out to community services. This is where friendly volunteers jump in! Home-health aides, shopping helpers, homemakers and repair people all can shoulder some of the many aspects of caregiving. Consider tapping into volunteer networks or staff from faith-based or civic groups to visit, cook or help you with driving.
Take a break. You deserve it. Think about respite care by friends, relatives or volunteers. Try for a weekend or a longer vacation by using home-health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living residences and care homes, which sometimes accept short-term residents when space permits. Adult day-care centers, which usually operate five days a week, provide care in a group setting to older people who need supervision.
Let it out. Talk with friends, family and perhaps leaders at your place of worship about the challenges and rewards of caregiving. Open up to coworkers in similar situations. Or join a support group for caregivers.
Redirect your mind. Do something you enjoy, whether it’s reading, walking or listening to music. Some people meditate or use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualizing a positive place. Many find prayer helpful.
Organize. A good plan will give you more personal time. Set priorities and realistic goals. List your caregiving priorities and get the important ones done first. Remember to pace yourself.
Ditch negative feelings. Keep your focus on the positive. Hold a family meeting to resolve conflicts with siblings and other relatives. Feel positive about your accomplishments as a caregiver instead of dwelling on perceived shortcomings.
Get Help Caring for Your Loved One and Yourself - www.aarp.org/caregivers
Fitness Resources - www.aarp.org/health/fitness
Caregiver Stress Quiz - assets.aarp.org/external_sites/caregiving/homeCare/managing_the_stress_quiz.html
“Prepare to Care” - www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-04-2010/prepare-to-care.html
Alzheimer’s Association - www.alz.org or 1-800-272-3900
Family Caregiver Alliance - www.caregiver.org or 1-800-445-8106
National Alliance for Hispanic Health - www.hispanichealth.org
Su Familia: The Hispanic Family Health Helpline, toll-free at 1-866-783-2645
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers - www.caremanager.org or 1-520-881-8008
National Women’s Health Information Center - www.womenshealth.gov or 1-800-994-9662
NIHSeniorHealth - www.nihseniorhealth.gov or 1-800-222-2225
Tips for Managing Health and Medication Records
People have lots to juggle — and to remember — when it comes to their health. Having incomplete or inaccurate health records may interfere with good care, as the records should contain the facts that doctors need to know to treat patients properly.
Health records need to include up-to-date descriptions of medications. Most adults age 45 and older take an average of four prescription drugs daily. And that’s in addition to any vitamins, supplements or over-the-counter medicines. There are many challenges related to managing medications, including no care coordination among doctors, other health professionals and caregivers, which often cause unintended medication interactions, side effects, etc.
Help a Caregiver
At any age, it’s easy to forget important information about health — when the last physical or health screening occurred, and what medications are currently being prescribed.
By helping a caregiver write down a loved one’s entire health and medication record in one place, you can help the caregiver take better care of their loved one, and you may discover clues about problems the person cared for could encounter. If the caregiver and care recipient are comfortable sharing this information with you, you can write it down for them. If not, share the tools below so organizing information will be easier for them.
Start by recording general information such as age, emergency contacts, health insurance, doctor’s names, allergies and special conditions such as having a pacemaker or epilepsy. Add a list of health care providers not forgetting dentist, pharmacists, social workers and more. Then list any conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Begin to record hospitalizations, office visits, screenings and tests. Check the Tools section for some easy-to-use resources to get you started.
Prepare several copies of the health and medication record to give to the loved one’s doctors and family.
Get information about blood relatives, record the ages of family members and what conditions they have. If they're deceased, record the cause of death.
Include the names of all medicines, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and any dietary supplements the loved one takes. The medication section of the health record should describe how the loved one takes his or her medicine, how much and when. Explain why the drugs are taken, their form (pill, liquid, caplet or the like), the dosage, and the start and stop dates. In addition, help the caregiver by exploring whether or not the loved one’s medications are well managed. For example, if you help the caregiver with transporting loved ones to doctor’s visits, don’t hesitate to ask questions about why the person takes a particular medicine:
- What is the drug supposed to do?
- Are there side effects?
- Are there alternatives?
- Does the medication work safely with the other ones the patient is taking?
- Are there similarly effective, lower-cost brand-name or generic drugs?
Tools to Help You Get Started
Medicare Guide to Starting a Personal Health Record: Medicare has information to help you get started on creating a personal health record. You can find this information at www.medicare.gov.
Age-related Health Records: Other personal health record tools for children and adults are available through the American Health Information Management at http://www.myphr.com/resources/choose.aspx.
While we cannot change our family history, knowing it can give doctors the information they need to request early or more frequent screenings.
Family Health Portrait: The U.S. Surgeon General's Office has an Internet-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” (https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/home.action). Enter the family’s health history, print out a family tree for the doctor, and — if you choose — share the information with other family members. When you help to create this personal health record, fill in the sections a little at a time. Over time, the record will take shape and the loved one and his or her health care providers will be equipped to do a better job because of your efforts.
Personal Medication Record: Track your medications and help your doctor and pharmacist have the most updated information by creating a Personal Medication Record. This form, available in both English and Spanish, allows you to list all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, the doses and how you take them. www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2007/my_personal_medication_record.html. Or find a how-to kit on helping others with the Rx Snapshot medication record at http://createthegood.org/toolkit/rx-snapshot-help-people-manage-their-medications-0.
Article: Get Healthy, It’s Never Too Late - www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-10-2009/women_health_aging.html
Drug-Interaction Checker - healthtools.aarp.org/drug-interactions
Pill Identifier - healthtools.aarp.org/pill-finder
Drug Compare (see how any two drugs stack up on dosage, side effects, interactions and more) - healthtools.aarp.org/drug-directory