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Practical Advice for Caring for a Dependent Loved One at Home 

As a Registered nurse, I know that caring for a dependent loved one at home may seem intimidating. You could be uncertain of what the future holds, how to meet their needs, and what the best practices are to care for them efficiently. However, by reading this article and following the tips provided, you will quickly see that identifying and prioritizing their needs makes the process a whole lot easier. Once you have done that, setting up a care plan will be effortless, and caring for them won’t seem so daunting anymore.  

Safety is always our first priority when we think about caring for anyone. By identifying risk areas and taking preventative measures to eliminate them, you will help to protect yourself and your loved one from harm. 

Let’s begin by ensuring that their living space is safe. Look around the house and remove anything that could lead to a fall, like throw rugs or long cords across walkways. Rugs should be removed or secured with double-sided tape or non-slip backing material to reduce the risk of falling. Make sure that all furniture is firmly placed and can’t slide around. Ensure no objects are lying around like toys that can pose a tripping hazard. Move furniture if needed so that your loved one can easily access all room parts without stretching or squeezing past anything. Make sure that there is proper bright lighting everywhere around the house and that the light switches are easily accessible. 

You want to make your loved ones’ living space comfortable to ease them of any burden their condition may cause. Reinforce existing features of the home, such as handrails on staircases and bathroom fixtures that they may use for support and use non-slip mats and grab bars for extra support where needed. If your loved one uses a wheelchair, invest in ramps or chairlifts when appropriate. It’s also important to make sure doorways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers if necessary.  

Creating an accessible home will make an enormous difference in their quality of life. Proper preparation and using some of the many available products will ensure your home is well-equipped for any mobility restrictions your loved one may have. 

When installing these products, remember to consider the following: 

  • Most injuries occur in the bathroom, and thus grab bars should be installed inside and outside of showers and baths, as well as next to toilets and beds. They should not move when pressure is applied and should be able to support at least 250 lbs of weight.  
  • Showers should have a sturdy bench or seat that does not become slippery when used. Baths, in turn, should be manageable and easy to get in and out of. They should also have non-slip mats inside and outside and accessible handrails. 
  • Raised toilet seats can help reduce strain on the joints while sitting down or standing up from the toilet, making them ideal for those with reduced mobility or balance issues. Otherwise, consider getting bedpans or commodes as an alternative. 

Caring for someone at home can be physically challenging, especially when transporting them. To ensure mutual safety, consider using wheelchairs or walkers to assist you. This will make transportation much easier for both of you, especially if they get tired quickly or are immobile. Be mindful of choosing a wheelchair that suits your needs and theirs and will fit into your space. 

Other than wheelchairs, there are also different types of walkers available. Do your research or speak to a professional to best fulfill your loved one’s needs. Additionally, thoroughly inspect the mobility aid every six months to a year; for example, checking the brakes, wheels, and handlebars is crucial to ensure optimal safety. 

There are also many adaptive devices that can help make everyday tasks easier. For example, if they have difficulty reaching, grasping, or performing everyday tasks due to mobility issues, consider investing in those devices to help assist your loved one. 

Transfer equipment is ideal for those who are completely immobile or need help getting up, sitting up, or being moved between surfaces. It’s important to have a medical professional, such as a nurse or physio, to show you how to use the equipment so you don’t injure yourself or your loved one. Remember, safety comes first. 

Daily activities, which usually are never given a second thought, become quite strenuous as independency decreases. Assisting or taking over these activities will comfort your loved one and ensure optimal care is maintained. 

The first and one of the most important daily activities is ensuring proper hygiene. This is achieved by helping your loved one bath or bed bathing them and helping with mouth hygiene. Watch informative videos or ask your hospice staff how to properly do this, especially if it is bed bathing. Second is grooming, such as dressing them comfortably in adaptive and affordable clothing, caring for their hair and nails, and ensuring adequate skin care through moisturizing, to prevent dry and itchy skin.  

Next is to provide any medication necessary. Instead of having the Monday to Sunday pill organizer, keep the medicine in the bottles they came in and give it as prescribed on the label to prevent any confusion. This also helps when you must show a medical professional what medication they use. 

Finally, is ensuring adequate hydration and feeding them, which can vary as some may have difficulty swallowing or specific dietary needs. Meal prep or freezer meals that can be heated up will save you a lot of time. Watching for signs of choking or distress during eating is vital to prevent aspiration. Some other precautions can also help to reduce the risk of aspiration, such as sitting them upright while eating/drinking or obtaining appropriate equipment, such as special eating utensils or adapted cups that make drinking easier. If you notice any warning signs, contact a doctor about the appropriate treatment. Consider having a medical response system in place should your loved one need emergency help. This could be having an emergency number saved or an easily accessible panic button. 

Proper positioning is key for comfort and safety when caring for your loved one at home. This includes positioning your loved one correctly while sitting in chairs or beds and turning those who are immobile regularly to prevent them from developing pressure sores. If you notice an area having broken skin or becoming red or swollen, try relieving the pressure with ring cushions and promote circulation by massaging the surrounding area. Consult your doctor if it becomes worse. 

Remember that even though your loved one is now dependent on you, we must protect their independence, autonomy, and dignity. Help them to have fun and be active. Keep them engaged with simple games or crossword puzzles. When possible, ask them for help so they feel needed or leave them to complete a task by themselves. Speak to them kindly, have patience with them, and remember how difficult it must be to depend on someone as much as they rely on you. 

The workload and responsibility may, at times, overwhelm you. Be sure to ask for help from family members, friends, or neighbors that are willing to stand in for you. Local medical professionals can also provide relief by helping with tasks or staying overnight to allow you to get some sleep while knowing your loved one is cared for. Remember that no one can pour from an empty cup and that allowing yourself time off to recharge or rest is essential. You will be a better caregiver if your cup stays full.  

Setting up a care routine is essential for providing the needed support for your loved one and will also alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed. Your routine should include their daily activities and interventions to ensure they are safe and comfortable and help keep you on track. Ask your doctor or hospice staff to assist you in making a detailed care plan for you to follow.  

If, for any reason, you don’t feel up to caring for your loved one at home, there are many different options available to you. You can place them in hospice care or have nurses care do home care. This is not something to be ashamed of and should not be seen as abandonment. Experienced medical professionals are trained to do all the above and provide companionship and emotional support to your loved one and your family. 

Admitting that your loved one may need more care and support than you can provide is a very admirable thing to do, and you are putting their needs above your own.     

Though caring for a dependent loved one may seem intimidating, it is important to remember that it can also be incredibly rewarding. By following the strategies above and involving your support system and hospice staff, you can make caring for a dependent loved one at home a beautiful experience. 

“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.” 

-Tia Walker

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