Discover ways to protect your loved ones and create a safe environment.
Maintaining a safe environment for you and your loved one is one of the biggest challenges you face as a caregiver. No one wants an already challenging situation to worsen because of a fall or a medication mishap. Here are some important guidelines that can help you identify and prevent household and medical dangers.
Take care of yourself to keep your loved one safe
Being a family caregiver for your loved one takes a lot of time, effort and hard work. It challenges you physically, intellectually and emotionally. Caring for others is stressful — and research confirms it. Over time, caregiving takes a toll on your body, your mind, on your personal finances, family relationships and work life. It can erode your immune system and actually increase susceptibility to illness.
Family caregivers must take care of their own health so they can be strong enough to take care of their loved one, but finding time to do so can seem impossible. There are many indications that caregivers are at risk of burning out, such as feelings of anger, anxiety, depression or fatigue. Seeking help is the most important step, but admittedly it is not always easy. Thankfully, there are tips and tools available to help avoid burnout and maintain some sense of balance in your life while caregiving.
Groups like the Caregiver Action Network have tips and tools that can help caregivers avoid burnout and stay healthy:
- Seek support from family and friends
- Take respite breaks often
- Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you
- Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay in getting professional help when you need it
- Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors
Medication safety prevents accidents
Medications can be dangerous when not used appropriately and cause 18 million emergency room visits per year. People with chronic conditions often take several medications. With so many medications, managing them can easily become overwhelming. That’s why an up-to-date medication list is one of the most important things to have on hand to prevent medication accidents.
Information such as the name of the drug, dosage, start and stop dates, and even a physical description of the meds should always be included in the medication list. It is also a great idea to note what the drug is treating and to keep a record of any side effects the patient has experienced. Remember to make multiple copies of the list: one for you to carry, one for your care recipient’s patient file, one on the refrigerator for paramedics to find in an emergency and one for the primary doctor. Taking the following steps can help prevent medication mishaps:
- Create an up-to-date medication list
- Write the condition treated on each medicine bottle
- Understand potential side effects and interactions, and monitor any interactions
- Use the same pharmacy when possible
- Come up with an easy way to manage medications on a daily basis (such as using pill boxes) and use auto-refill programs when available
In-home safety prevents falls
Every year, 12 million aging Americans fall — that’s one in three seniors. Falls are the leading cause of injuries for people over 65. Falls cause broken bones, head injuries and, in some cases, even death.
Fortunately, falls can be prevented. Over half of all falls take place at home, which is why it’s crucial to inspect the home for fall risks. There are many things you as a caregiver can do to help the older adults in your care reduce their risk of falling. Some don’t even require any home modifications:
- Do a walk-through home safety check
- Remove hazards such as clutter and throw rugs
- Install grab bars, a shower chair and a hand-held shower head in the bathroom
- Replace old lightbulbs and fix poor lighting
- Add a second handrail on stairs and make sure that stairs are well-lit
- Use non-slip paint on outdoor steps
Remember, too, that some medications may increase risk of falling. Making sure your loved one’s medications are being properly managed can go a long way toward preventing falls. In addition, vision problems make people more than twice as likely to fall as those without visual impairment, so make sure your loved one has their vision checked regularly. If your loved one wears glasses, make sure their prescription is current. Also, exercising helps maintain muscle strength and improves balance.
Safety equals peace of mind
There are tens of millions of family caregivers across the country and, just like you, they face all sorts of challenging caregiving situations. But, whether you have just become a caregiver or have been caregiving for years; whether the one you are helping care for lives with you or several states away — we all want to keep our loved ones safe so they can enjoy the best quality of life possible. Safety for your loved ones is the first priority. Planning ahead on these three important issues — medication safety, safety in the home and staying strong yourself — will give you a little bit of peace of mind during your day-to-day caregiving responsibilities.
John Schall is Chief Executive Officer of Caregiver Action Network, a national nonprofit organization providing information and resources for family caregivers free of charge. Visit CaregiverAction.org.