Caregiver Considerations

Caring for your parent can be a daunting prospect. Not only are there the obvious physical needs, such as meals and medications, but you are also responsible for your parent’s mental and emotional well-being.

Learn more about some of the specific concerns you may encounter as a caregiver.

Adjusting to changing nutritional needs

Sometimes it can be a struggle to make sure your parent receives adequate nutrition. Changes in food preferences can cause former favorite foods to suddenly become unappealing, while illnesses, medications or dental issues can make eating more of a chore than a pleasure. And for some adults, just remembering to eat can be a challenge.

Poor nourishment is a serious risk. If your parent doesn’t eat or drink enough – or passes up nutritionally balanced food for sweets and empty calories – they can experience dehydration, fatigue, dizziness and disease complications.

Consider these tips to ensure your parent has a nutritionally sound diet:

  • Embrace change – Tastes develop over time. Don’t be alarmed if your parent no longer loves green beans or suddenly wants ham every Sunday. Comply with these requests as you can. Also, try offering new foods or variations on family favorites to see what alternatives they may find appealing.
  • Keep it simple – Stock your parent’s kitchen with healthy pre-portioned snacks that are easy to prepare and eat. Some great ideas include granola bars, baby carrots, fresh fruit, cheese sticks and bottled water. Meal replacement drinks can also be an easy – and tasty – way to ensure your parent gets the daily nutrition they need.
  • Set a timer – If your parent often forgets to eat, use an alarm clock to help prompt them. Place it in the kitchen to get them closer to the food and help remind them what the alarm is for.
  • Add a multivitamin – While it shouldn’t be a replacement for healthy food, a daily multivitamin can help ensure your parent gets all the key vitamins and minerals they need.

Dealing with dementia and other memory concerns

Everyone expects a little forgetfulness as they age. But if your parent has consistent short-term memory loss, confusion, trouble solving problems or noticeable personality changes, he or she may be suffering from dementia.

While Alzheimer’s disease is the most well-known form of dementia, memory issues can be caused by a number of other conditions. Some, like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, can’t be reversed but can be treated to slow the progression. However, other conditions – including those caused by medication interactions, depression, hearing or vision problems, and low blood sugar – can usually be corrected with proper treatment. That’s why a medical evaluation and diagnosis from a primary care doctor is so important.
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Once you have a proper diagnosis in hand, the doctor can prescribe the appropriate treatment including medications or occupational therapy.

Enlisting a mental health professional

If your parent is experiencing depression or other behavioral health issues, meeting with a licensed mental health professional may be beneficial. A primary care doctor can provide recommendations and referrals to different types of professionals depending on the severity of your parent’s condition, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker or therapist. Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication, while psychologists, social workers and therapists help counsel people as they work through personal issues. Not all psychologists, social workers and therapists accept insurance, so be sure you understand what the out-of-pocket costs will be before making an appointment.

Exploring alternative treatments

If your parent is sick, you’ve likely spent a lot of time researching potential treatments. One alternative you may have discovered is homeopathy.

Homeopathy, also known as homeopathic medicine, uses natural substances – such as plants and minerals – to treat illness and prevent disease. The theory behind homeopathy is that, if a large dose of a substance causes a symptom in a healthy person, such as joint pain, a small dose of that same substance may treat the same symptom when it occurs naturally.

Homeopathy is most often used to treat conditions such as:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Colds
  • Dry skin
  • Flu
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Although most research has found little evidence that homeopathy is effective at treating disease, some studies have reported positive findings. Be sure to tell your parent’s doctor about any alternative practices you are considering to reducing the risk of medication interactions.

Techniques to help ease pain

One of the most difficult parts of being a caregiver is seeing your mother or father in pain. Depending on the illness, pain may escalate over time, or it may come and go, and be influenced by the time of day. But there are several things you can do to treat the pain before it becomes unbearable.
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Create a pain control plan

Work with the doctor to create a program that will help keep your parent’s pain under control. Make sure you are familiar with each medication, including the dosage and how frequently it should be taken. Also, be sure you’re prepared for pain problems before they occur. These include increased tolerance to medication resulting in pain returning before the next dose is due, pain that may occur in the middle of the night or unexpected side effects from the medication.

Keep a medication log

Depending on how many medications your parent is taking, and how frequently, it can be confusing to remember when the next dose is due. Create a simple medication log – either on paper or by using an app on your smart phone – to track each medication, the dosage and the time it was taken.

Refill before you run out

Some pain medications need to be ordered, so contact the pharmacy early to be sure you don’t run out. Also, consider signing up for auto-refill to make the process easier for you. The Novant Health Pharmacy offers both auto-refill and free mail order delivery to your home. To learn more, call 1-888-718-9044.

Learn non-medication treatment options

At-home treatments such as massage, proper positioning, and applying cold and heat can help relax muscles and relieve pain. A physical therapist can teach you appropriate exercises and simple techniques.

Don’t be afraid to ask for more help

If the prescribed medication doesn’t seem to be working or the pain seems to be intensifying, call you parent’s doctor immediately. A pain management specialist can also help tailor a program specifically for your parent. Relieving or reducing pain is essential in an individual’s ability to cope with an illness.

Improving your parent’s quality of life

If you are caring for a parent with a serious illness, Novant Health supportive care can help relieve their symptoms, pain and stress.

Supportive care, also known as palliative care, is available to all patients who need it – no matter what their diagnosis, age or stage of disease. It doesn’t replace medical care but instead compliments active treatment.

Our specially trained support care experts will work with your parent’s primary care doctor to provide an extra layer of support, including:

  • Easing symptoms that cause distress – We can prescribe medications or other methods to help treat symptoms including pain, anxiety, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, loss of energy and trouble sleeping.
  • Coordinating care – This helps ensure each care provider is aware of the goals of care. Team members communicate regularly to ensure these goals are understood and are being met.
  • Meeting emotional and spiritual needs – Our supportive care specialists can help you and your parent cope with stress, depression, anxiety and other issues. We can also set up meetings with counselors or spiritual advisers if desired.
  • Giving information and helping with decisions – We also can help you get additional information about treatment options or support networks, and can also help when care decisions need to be made.

Finding hospice care for your loved one

If your parent is nearing the end of life, our hospice care specialists can help make their remaining time more comfortable.

Hospice is specialized care designed to provide relief from discomfort and worry to a person who is dying so they can make the most of the time they have left. Hospice care is provided by a team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and social workers – usually where your parent already lives. Hospice care can include:

  • Physical care – Symptoms such as pain, nausea, anxiety, breathing distress and sleep problems are treated with medications. Treatments or medications that are no longer beneficial may be stopped.
  • Emotional, spiritual and social support – Both you and your parent will receive support to help with anxiety, grief, family conflict, non-medical services and spiritual issues. Hospice also provides bereavement support for up to 13 months following a loved one’s death.

Anyone may request hospice care, but a doctor must confirm that your parent qualifies. A person with a life-threatening illness can receive hospice care when a doctor believes he or she has six months or less to live.
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