Every caregiver’s duties and responsibilities are wide-ranging. One moment a caregiver may be shopping for meals or cleaning the carpet and the next they could be discussing medication dosage with the pharmacist or arranging transportation for a specialist appointment. The caregiver, whether a professional or a family member, is responsible for ensuring continuity of care to the aging loved one, whatever that entails.
Since this role can be challenging, it is often best addressed through several helping hands — both paid and unpaid. Caregivers can be a parent, partner, son, grandchild, neighbor or hired help. It is a challenging job that can change daily as the needs of the older adult change.
With many Americans wanting to grow older in their own homes (also referred to as “aging in place“), there is an increased opportunity to help them realize dignity and fulfillment while doing so. There is an anticipated shortage of 350,000 paid caregivers by 2040, according to author and MIT economist Paul Osterman, so it’s crucial that families have a plan in place to seek care for their loved ones.
Because no two seniors’ needs are the same, the caregiving requirements for each person will differ. It can be assumed, however, that many of the following tasks are performed at some point in the care cycle. That said, whether you’re a professional caregiver, an older adult or an individual with some level of family caregiving in their future, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with this list.
Caregiver duties and responsibilities
The most common tasks for in-home senior caregiving include:
1. Home management and care planning
It can be tricky to know just how much of a commitment caregiving can place on others. One useful way to ensure proper coverage for all tasks is to create a care plan to manage the home and the health responsibilities. This plan should be created with the input of the medical team, family members and all those providing services. From this, a basic time and money budget can be devised to set proper expectations for care.
2. Medical advocacy
While it’s useful to have one physician overseeing all of a senior’s care (a geriatric specialist is recommended), family members and caregivers will still need to take on the role of advocate to ensure that appointments are being made, medicines are properly prescribed and issues are caught and addressed far before they become a life-threatening situation. The caregiver may also be required to look over health insurance paperwork, billing statements and doctor’s orders to make sure the senior loved one isn’t being overcharged or treated in a manner inconsistent with their care plan.
3. Prescription medication management
Since medications do fall under the umbrella of healthcare, it can be tempting to have the same person handle everything. As people age, however, their prescriptions can grow at an alarming pace. Some patients may take more than a dozen different meds at a time, and the sheer number of meds can bring about the need for one dedicated caregiver to oversee the prescribing, changes, administration and pick-up of orders. This caregiver should also regularly check on medication supply; since some pain prescriptions are a target for theft, controlled substances should be locked up and counted on a daily basis.
4. Help with personal hygiene and care
For many aging loved ones, help is only brought in once they start having difficulty with the more intimate tasks of daily life, known as the activities of daily living (ADLs). Getting assistance with bathing, using the toilet, cleaning up after being sick or washing and combing their hair can be a necessary step for aging in place. Since it’s a delicate topic, be sure that the caregiver is kind natured and patient. You’ll also want anyone handling hygiene care to have a good track record for working with the elderly.
5. Assisting with meals and nutrition
It’s not enough to ask a caregiver to make meals. In fact, since many older adults lose their appetites and take in fewer calories as they age, the food they eat must be of the best nutrition possible. There is also the consideration of whether foods will interact with their medications or cause specific ailments to become worse, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Anyone handling grocery shopping, meal planning and food preparation should work side by side with a nutritionist to ensure all meals and snacks compliment the care plan for your loved one.
6. Help with mobility
Whether it’s learning to properly move someone from the wheelchair to toilet or noticing the signs of someone at risk for a fall, the skills a caregiver needs to ensure safe movement both inside and outside the home are vital. Proper “transfer” methods (those used to transition a loved one from one position to another) are needed to avoid injury to both the caregiver and the senior loved one. Caregiving can be hard on the body of the person helping, and the right knowledge can prevent painful mistakes later.
7. Home maintenance and basic housekeeping
A good caregiver should have basic cleaning and repair skills. They should have no problem helping out with or doing the dishes. Knowing how a toilet plunger works and feeling comfortable changing a lightbulb are just two examples of how a caregiver can also help a senior avoid expensive calls to repair professionals when they are not needed.
As people age, they may feel the urge to withdraw and avoid going out. A supportive caregiver can provide some normalcy by driving them to social events, as well as their needed medical appointments. Whether it’s to pick up books at the library or get them to a much-needed dental cleaning, having the means to get around as they need, and want, will help with providing a healthy quality of life for your loved one.
9. Keeping them company
The industry has gotten accustomed to calling caregivers “companions” — and for a good reason. Relationships can be the difference-maker in how hard an older person fights against illness or sticks to a strict dietary requirement. They have a purpose to work through the difficulties of aging if they have people around them to care about. Caregivers should have tasks assigned that support this goal. From playing games to just chatting over coffee, this more relaxed aspect of caregiving is also one of the most important.
10. Financial accountability
While the senior likely has someone handling their finances (usually a power of attorney), some support tasks can be assigned to a caregiver. Tasks can be anything from mailing a utility payment to preparing taxes. The person responsible for these functions should be trusted and capable. Anyone that has access to bank accounts or checkbooks and debit cards needs to pass a background check, at the least.
11. Reporting and monitoring
All caregivers should be aware of the “red flags” for a senior loved one. Whether it is an indication of health, mental state or simply mood, anyone who sees a reason for concern should speak up immediately. Also, a simple method of record-keeping can keep everyone on the same page. All caregivers should be willing to document what happens during a shift, as well as make recommendations for additional care when needed. Proper monitoring of these records can keep caregivers accountable and loved ones in the loop — even while far away.
This list isn’t exhaustive, and you’ll know the needs of your loved one best. If the caregivers you have in place aren’t qualified or willing to take on new responsibilities, someone else can be hired to fill in the gaps.
The benefits and rewards of caregiving
While keeping an older loved one happy and healthy is hard work, there are some perks that shouldn’t be ignored. For those who are lucky enough to spend those precious years in a caregiving role, the bond that forms can be the closest of a lifetime. As your older loved one becomes more vulnerable and depends on you for more of their basic needs, the opportunity to talk and get to know them increases, as well. Stories of their youth, tales of their dreams and wishes for their future are more abundant — even amid the fears and concerns of aging.
The trusted position of caregiver also brings about unique insight into life itself. Only after caring for a senior loved one can you truly appreciate how important it is to set up support systems for your golden years. These values can lead the way for conversations with your spouse and children about how you wish to be cared for in your later decades.
Finally, the privilege to care for an older friend or relative is one that comes with lessons. You’ll get a peek into the patience and wisdom that comes with a life well lived. You’ll have a perspective that keeps minor issues in their place, as the more important life and death decisions come front and center. While being a caregiver is trying and not something everyone is cut out for, its rich rewards cannot truly be defined.