| Tue, Jul 16, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Caregiver Corner: Necessary Conversations Part 3

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

caregiver informationThe last in a 3-part series by Dr. Jamie Huysman, Vice President, UnitedHealthcare

The great crises of life are not, I think, necessarily those which are in themselves the hardest to bear, but those for which we are least prepared. ~ Mary Adams

If you’re going to be a caregiver, we need to talk!

Many people don’t have the luxury of preparing to be a caregiver. Those who do are fortunate, indeed, because the gift of time to get your bearings, gather information and discuss plans with the family is time well spent.

There is no doubt that life changes when you are a caregiver. Make sure you are up to it, and try not to trap yourself with an undue sense of responsibility or guilt. It is your decision.

Let’s talk about some of the things that usually go with caregiver territory.

Care Plan

Let’s say you’re going to take charge of someone’s care after a hospital stay. You should not leave the hospital without receiving a detailed care plan. If you need to be trained in any part of that plan, for instance dressing wounds, cleaning and maintaining equipment, etc., make sure it is provided to you. Hospitals have social workers and care managers for this purpose.

Too many times, patients are discharged without the information vital to their aftercare. This may contribute to the physical, emotional and financial cost of hospital re-admissions.


Make sure you know what medications are to be taken on a daily basis and in what amounts. Find out if they need to be taken with or without food and which can be taken together. All this information should be known to you beforehand. Ask your pharmacist for guidance in developing a plan.

Try not to rely on your memory as to what medication has been taken and what has not. A little organization can help to make sure that your loved one gets their medications at the right times and can remove the guesswork.

Rather than allowing bottles of pills to decorate a nightstand, find a way to track days and times of medications that suits the schedule you need to follow. Compartmentalized pill cases come in a variety of sizes, for a day, a week or two weeks of medication. You can also get separate cases for day and evening doses. A little effort may make managing medications easier.


Is your loved one a finicky eater? Proper nutrition is an important part of the healing process and may be difficult to achieve. Loss of appetite, even for favorite foods, may accompany illness. This is often due to the side effects of medication.

You may want to consult a dietitian for help. Prepared liquid meals are available at the grocery store and can be substituted for one meal a day. Also, your loved one may prefer to eat several small meals a day rather than stick to a breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule. Be as flexible as you can. You’ll find a way!

Feelings and Moodiness

Sometimes people can get up on the wrong side of the bed, even when they can’t get out of bed! No one is immune to having uncomfortable feelings or being in a cranky mood every now and then. We are only human.

Knowing how to pull your loved one or yourself out of a bad mood is an art. Arranging for a visit from a friend or bringing a bright balloon, card or flowers can be just what your loved one needs. For yourself, a walk may be what helps you manage your mood.

It’s perfectly normal for your loved one to be upset because they are sick, just as it is normal for you to feel like you don’t want to be a caregiver at times. The trick is to not take your frustrations out on each other. Knowing when to “take 5” to regroup and center yourself can help. Managing the sense of powerlessness and frustration we may sometimes feel is a very real part of the world of caregiving.

Finally, if emotional upset or moodiness persists for over two weeks, make sure you get an evaluation from qualified licensed professional.

Take Your Oxygen First

Let’s talk a little more about YOU. I believe that the caregiver’s best friend is the slogan “Take Your Oxygen First.” I know from experience that you must take care of yourself to be effective in caring for another. It is vital that you keep social engagements, arrange for “me” time and keep as much normalcy in your life as possible. Have a life!

If caring for an aging or sick loved one is on your horizon, it’s not too soon to begin exploring needs and options. The best place to start is with your loved one’s doctor, who should be able to direct you to local community resources. If there are no social services available in your immediate locale, contact the nearest Area on Aging office for information. You may also seek help from a geriatric care provider or social worker at the nearest hospital. In addition, there is a wealth of information available on the internet from a host of disease-specific organizations and caregiving groups.

Caregiving is a labor of love with the power to transform lives and relationships. Don’t be afraid. Instead, get informed, involved and inspired. You’ll be glad you did.

For more information, contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048. If you have questions about Medicare Made Clear, call 1-877-619-5582, TTY 711, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. local time, seven days a week.


Caregiving: Get information just for caregivers at Medicare.gov.

Caregiver Action Network: Learn about caregiving and get resources.

Medicare.gov: Visit the official U.S. government site for Medicare.

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