Guide for Basic Caregivers


What kind of caregiver are you? What kind of caregiver do you want to be? Did you volunteer or did you get the job as the result of the family needing you? Do you feel like you have choices in your role or do you feel trapped?

A practical caregiver is an educated caregiver. An educated caregiver is a better caregiver. Why? When you understand the role of caregiver and learn how to improve the care you give, you focus your attention on success. A cooperative effort to plan the care with your loved one means less resistance from your loved one and less work for you. Keep your loved one as independent and active as possible.









A practical caregiver never takes charge of the loved one, the disease or disorder, or the decisions, unless the loved one is non compos mentis. Always engage your loved one in the process of caregiving if you want cooperation.
Caregiver Command Central

In order to focus your caregiving, you will need to create your Caregiver Command Central. This is where you organize and store all things related to the care you provide.

It’s sometimes tempting to get rid of receipts, appointment calendars, and other information that seems unnecessary to keep. You might be surprised to learn it can be helpful to have this information handy. Medical situations may develop slowly over time. Being able to provide the physician with details of the dates, medications used to treat the symptoms, and other relevant information can sometimes aid in the diagnosis of undetected illness.


You need one central location to keep all of the printed information on your loved one’s medical, financial, insurance, and personal issues that you will be handling.

Use a file folder, file box, or file cabinet for this and keep it in one location. In an emergency, when you need to grab important papers to take with you to the hospital, you don’t want to waste time and energy looking for it. As time goes on, especially if your loved one’s health deteriorates, this becomes the official record of what occurs, and you will need to be able to access the information. Sometimes unexpected situations occur down the road – being able to review dates or procedures can be helpful.


You may also want to create an electronic file on your computer for important information. (You may choose to take advantage of some of the many programs and apps available to caregivers that help them get medications organized. The costs vary for these, as do the features.)

It’s also helpful to have a calendar of your loved one’s appointments, so you can coordinate your own busy schedule with that of your loved one.


Take the time to set up your command center. Down the road, if your loved one’s need for care grows, you will have less time to organize. Once you have this set up in a way that works for you, you can begin to tweak it to fit the needs of both you and your loved one.

Organizing Basic Medical Care

The first thing any caregiver benefits from is to review the loved one’s health situation. Assess the needs of your loved one, so that you can begin to develop strategies to help your loved one get the best medical care available.

1. MEDICATIONS – You are the official pharmacy assistant.

Make a list of all medications your loved one is currently taking, the name of the physician who prescribed each one, as well as the dosage. Also list all vitamins, supplements, and minerals, as well as all Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications. These include allergy relief, antacids, and even pain relievers. These can interfere with certain medications and cause serious health problems. You will need this information every time your loved one goes for a medical appointment. It’s important that each doctor knows what the other doctors are doing for your loved one. Be sure to read the printed information for each drug. Many side effects are missed by patients and caregivers, and that can cause discomfort for your loved one. Sometimes medications need to be altered or changed.

2. MEDICAL HISTORY – You are the official medical coordinator.

Make a list of every physician your loved one sees and the contact information for each office. It’s often helpful to add these phone numbers to your cell phone directory. In an emergency, it’s easier to push a button and be instantly connected than to have to search for a name and phone number. If the physicians offer a medical records tracking program, consider using this. It’s often a USB stick that downloads current medical records from that physician’s office and it allows other physicians treating your loved one to see what is going on. This is a handy tool if you need to rush your loved one to the emergency room. Other helpful information includes the dates and laboratories performing diagnostic tests, such as most recent x-rays, CAT and PET scans, and blood tests.

3. IDENTIFICATION AND INSURANCES – You are the official chief information officer.

Make a copy of your loved one’s insurance information and driver’s license to keep in your wallet. In an emergency, this can be important. Encourage your loved one to keep the insurance cards in a specific location in his or her wallet. Make sure your loved one is prepared for medical appointments and treatments. Many scheduled tests require that you bring paperwork with you. Some tests require your loved one to prepare ahead of time. Be sure you understand all instructions, including any regarding fasting, taking required dyes, and medications. If you have questions, always call the laboratory or physician’s office to double-check.

Many families have more than one member assisting with care issues. You may have someone who handles all of the financial issues in care, including insurance payments and co-pays. You should always coordinate with the person handling financial issues, but if you are the one taking your loved one to medical appointments, you need this information in your possession.

4. NUTRITION AND DIET – You are the official nutrition coordinator.

Make a list of all nutritional information that is important for your loved one. Are there medications that should not be taken with certain foods? Is it necessary for your loved one to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain weight? Has the doctor recommended the use of nutritional supplements or a specific diet? It’s important to understand your loved one’s dietary needs, especially if his or her illness has resulted in weight loss or diabetes. Many patients using steroids often develop diabetes after long-term use. This is often addressed by careful dietary management.

Please note – food can be an issue that creates power struggles between patient and caregiver if it’s not properly addressed. Your job is not to be Chief Nagger or The Food Police. Most patients are cooperative when they understand they are a part of their own treatment plan. Always seek nutritional advice from medical professionals, dietitians and nutritionists on how best to help your loved one.


When you organize the care you will give, you save yourself time, money and energy. It enables you to plan and strategize what you will do and how you will do it.

Organizing Home Life Structure

If you are new to the caregiving situation, it’s important for you not only to understand your loved one’s needs for care, but the benefits of having a caregiver structure. When you know your loved one’s interests in life, the activities he or she enjoys, as well as his or her schedules and routines, you can direct your care towards maintaining your loved one’s personal strengths while minimizing weaknesses created by the illness or disorder. A happy loved one is busy enjoying quality of life despite the obstacles. Know what activities are important to him or her, and find ways to enable your loved one to continue to get out to shop, to socialize, and to pursue hobbies and passions. The worst thing in the world that a well-meaning caregiver can do is to rein in a loved one in an effort to make less work for everyone. You don’t want your loved one stuck alone at home, miserable and depressed. Every human being needs to feel that life is worth living, even if that means making more of an effort.

1. NEEDS – You are the official care assistant.

Make a list of the things your loved one needs help with in everyday life. This requires you to understand the problems your loved one is experiencing. Discuss this. Take the time to observe your loved one in action. Your goal here is not to physically do everything. It’s to identify problems and find solutions that will overcome these challenges. Keep your loved one as active, engaged, and independent as possible.

2. STRENGTHS – You are the official skills optimizer.

Make a list of the things your loved one can do by himself or herself at this moment in time. These can be used to maintain a sense of self-worth in your loved one. The more you encourage the use of these strengths, the less dependent your loved one will feel upon you. Everyone wants to feel like a contributor, not a burden. (Remember that things can change and you may need to adapt tools and assistance to meet these needs.) By having an inventory of your loved one’s current skills, you can find ways to enable him or her to continue achieving.

3. ACTIVITIES – You are the official social coordinator.

Make a list of the activities your loved one enjoys. Your purpose in listing these is to find ways to keep your loved one participating in life in ways that help him or her stay true to the self. Activities have real meaning for people and they provide enjoyment and stimulation. Are there new challenges because of illness or injury? Can some of the activities be adapted so your loved one can continue to do them with a little help?

4. ROUTINES –You are the official domestic routines coordinator.

Make a list of the routines your loved one needs help doing. Routines are done on a regular basis. Is it mowing the lawn, doing household chores or taking out the garbage? Will you need to hire someone, call upon a family member or friend, or do it yourself?

Does your loved one like to work in the yard, even with limitations? Or do the weekly food shopping? How can you help your loved one continue to do things that matter, even if it means making adjustments in how things are done? Many handicapped people can still be productive in the garden or the grocery store, as long as they have some help. Many can still do laundry themselves or cook uncomplicated meals. You need to understand what routines are possible and what routines are impossible for your loved one to continue.

5. SCHEDULES – You are the official schedule coordinator.

Make a list of the schedule your loved one normally keeps. What time does he or she usually get up? What time does he or she normally go to bed? When are meals usually eaten? One important thing caregivers need to understand is that their loved ones usually have an established schedule. When you are being treated for an illness or disorder, schedules can often be disrupted. This can create a sense of chaos for your loved one. By following his or her normal schedule, you can help bring focus and a sense of normalcy back to the family. You won’t always be able to do things on schedule, but understanding it can be very helpful for everyone.


If your loved one is physically or mentally limited, getting ready to go out can take a lot of time and energy. Some patients can feel overwhelmed by the effort. If your loved one is exhausted, frustrated or rushed, find ways to cut down on unnecessary actions and make the whole process easier for your loved one to endure. Clothes and footwear that are easy to get in and out of will help.
Caregiver Support Team
What is your caregiver support team? This is a critical issue for you to understand because your caregiver support team can help you avoid some of the biggest pitfalls of taking care of a loved one. Stress, depression, and physical neglect can take its toll on family caregivers. The better you understand your responsibility to take good care of yourself, the better the care you will provide to your loved one. You need to be able to focus, to manage crises that arise, and to meet the constantly changing demands of caregiving. This requires:

1. PHYSICAL SUPPORT – You need help to get it all done.

You should never do caregiving all by yourself. Whether you get family support, friend support, volunteer support, or hired help, you need to know who you can call on for those times you need help providing care. Make a list of the people you can count on, what they can provide, and what their strengths are. There may be some people who are good at visiting your loved one when you want to pop out to the store for a few things. There may be others who are willing to be involved in regularly helping you with your loved one.

2. EMOTIONAL SUPPORT – You need a shoulder or two to cry on.

You will need emotional support during your time as a caregiver, and the harder the challenges you face, the greater the need for quality support. You need good people who can help you troubleshoot issues and find realistic solutions for problems. Avoid pessimistic people for your support team. Consider people who have walked in your shoes as family caregivers. Many caregivers find it helpful to join support groups. Whether it’s a national disease organization, a family caregiver organization, or even a local community group of caregivers, there are people out there like you.

3. FINANCIAL/WORK SUPPORT – You need help balancing out the realities of caregiving.

If you are still working full-time when you take on the care of your loved one, you will need to work out the challenges of sometimes being in two places at once. If your loved one’s needs require you to scale back your job or take on full-time caregiver duties, how will you manage the financial burdens of caring for your loved one? Some families provide a stipend to family members providing care, to help cover the loss of wages. Caregivers still need to have medical and other insurances, but in some cases, it’s possible to downsize while being a family caregiver. Make a list of your financial needs, ways to adjust them to fit the caregiver situation, and ways that you can eliminate unnecessary costs.

4. RESPITE CARE SUPPORT – Taking time for you is NOT optional.

Caregivers need to understand and appreciate the need for respite care. When you take time off from your caregiving, you are recharging your batteries. You should never feel guilty. If you start your caregiving by regularly scheduling respite time for yourself, your loved one has the chance to get used to the concept. It’s important to do this because down the road, should your loved one become more affected by his or her physical limitations, you will have established your routine of respite care. Make a list of family members, friends, and volunteer respite providers you can call upon. If you can afford it, there may be times that you utilize paid home health aides to care for your loved one.

This is your support team, your choice. It’s just for you. Pick the people you think are most likely to help. Recognize what each person can do for you.

Copyright Sara M. Barton 2013-2018