Do you help your elderly parent with grocery shopping, errands or help them pay bills? If so, you are a family caregiver. In this post, we review caregiver duties and caregiver responsibilities.
What is a caregiver?
A caregiver provides help to someone who struggles performing activities of daily living (like bathing or getting dressed) or instrumental activities of daily living (e.g. grocery shopping, bill paying).
Caregiver duties may include help with physical assistance, emotional support, help with finances, or companionship.
What are Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities?
16 Common Caregiver Duties
Caregivers help with those things the individual can no longer do by themselves.
How much of your time is needed to help? It varies.
The required care is different from person to person and is frequently related to their medical conditions.
Below we review some tasks a family caregiver may perform.
Our free downloadable caregiver checklist may be helpful to help ensure important tasks are being done.
Below we review 16 common caregiver duties and responsibilities.
1. Review Medical History
It is a good idea to talk to your loved ones about their medical conditions.
Make sure you both understand the diagnosis and treatment plan for each health condition.
Have a list of all the health care providers on the care team. You may need to help make doctor appointments or to take them there.
Many medical conditions require continuous management.
For example, daily blood sugar monitoring, tracking pain levels or taking daily weights. This may be something your loved one needs help with.
2. Manage Medications
Sometimes caregiver responsibilities include ensuring their loved one takes medications as prescribed.
Drugs that should be monitored carefully include diabetes medications (like insulin), blood thinners (like warfarin), opioid analgesics, and seizure medications (like phenytoin), among many others.
It is easier to stay organized with a medication tracker log so you know the pertinent information about the prescribed medications.
Adverse Drug Event
When someone is harmed because of a medicine, it is called an adverse drug event (ADE).
As people age, they may take more medications and be at increased risk of adverse drug reactions.
Older adults are almost seven times more likely than younger people to be hospitalized after an emergency room visit.
The majority of the hospitalizations are because of drugs that should be monitored carefully to prevent problems.
How to Decrease Risk of Adverse Drug Event
Remembering to take medications every day can be challenging.
This is especially true for those with complex medication regimens or memory decline.
To decrease the risk of harm due to medications, family caregivers can:
- Keep a list of all medications taken, including over the counter ones
- Organize pills and refill prescriptions as needed
- Understand what each medication is for and potential side effects
- Ensure the medication is taken as prescribed
- Monitor your loved one for side effects
- Follow directions with the recommended follow-up plan. Monitor things as the doctor recommended. For example, blood pressure checks, maintain a pain diary, glucose monitoring, or recommended lab draws.
3. Home Safety Assessment
Falls are a significant risk to the health of older adults.
Every year about 36 million older adults fall (resulting in more than 32,000 deaths).
Despite being preventable, falls are common and costly.
Nearly 3 million older adults receive treatment for a fall injury in the emergency department every year.
Tips to Make the Home Safer:
- Keep floors clear of clutter and remove trip hazards.
- Add grab bars by the shower, tub, and toilet.
- Use non-slip mats on shower floors and in the bathtub.
- Improve lighting in the home to ensure your loved one can see well.
- Ensure stairways have handrails and good lighting.
- Wear shoes or sneakers that fit well and have good support.
Click here for our free PDF download Home Safety Checklist for Seniors.
4. Needs Assessment
A common caregiver responsibility is to assess what needs your loved one has.
Thoroughly evaluate what your loved one can and cannot do independently.
There are several things to consider.
- Can your loved one bathe, dress, and eat without help?
- Can they schedule appointments and get to them safely?
- Do they need help managing medications, grocery shopping, or house cleaning?
- Identify what help your loved one needs.
Periodically re-evaluate the needs of your loved ones.
When assessing the needs of your loved one, it may be helpful to involve other family members. This way, together, as a family, you define your loved one’s needs.
Then, develop a care plan. Ask everyone to help.
5. Prepare a Care Plan
Once you understand your loved one’s medical condition and assess what needs they require help with, you can develop a care plan.
A care plan is writing down what needs to be done and when. It can help you determine the type and amount of care required.
Assign duties to each family member. The goal is not to overburden one caregiver.
Writing Down a Plan
Having a care plan will promote family communication and encourage unified efforts to improve the quality of life for your loved one.
It will also outline tasks to help manage your loved one’s medical conditions.
For example, you may identify how often they need to monitor their blood pressure, heart rate, or fluid intake.
Writing down the care plan is helpful. It can identify gaps in care and allow you to clearly assign responsible parties to each task.
In addition, keep other important documents with your care plan, for easy access.
For example, a list of healthcare providers, medication list, and emergency contacts.
6. Managing Medical Appointments
Caregiver responsibilities commonly include helping loved ones with medical appointments. This includes:
- scheduling health care appointments
- monitoring issues between appointments
- scheduling follow up appointments
- making sure your loved one gets there safely
- following the doctor recommendations
As we age we tend to have more health issues. Consequently, this usually includes more medical tests, multiple specialists, and have many follow-up doctor appointments.
Attending the Medical Appointments
Commonly seniors face serious medical conditions and complex treatments.
Attending the appointments with your loved one, and writing things down, will help you better understand and remember the doctor’s recommendation.
For more information on how to prepare for medical appointments, read our post: Caregiver Guide: Preparing Health Information for Medical Appointments.
It is well documented that 40 – 80% of the medical information provided by health care practitioners is forgotten immediately.
Also, the greater the amount of information presented to the patient, the lower the proportion of information is recalled correctly.
When escorting your loved one to the appointments, make sure the doctor knows any new health concerns.
Additionally, consider asking questions – so that you understand the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Do you have a complicated treatment plan or serious diagnosis? Consider a second opinion. For more information, read our blog post:
One essential piece of caregiving is providing companionship.
The importance of companionship can easily be overlooked, especially when there is a lot is going on.
A National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report states that more than one-third (or 33%) of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely.
In addition, almost one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated.
There are health risks associated with loneliness, such as premature death, increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, stroke, anxiety, and suicide.
Caregivers help lessen their elderly loved one’s loneliness and social isolation because caregivers provide social interaction and hopefully have some fun.
8. Personal Care
As people age and encounter mobility and balance issues, they struggle to do their personal care.
This could lead to them neglecting their personal hygiene.
Consequently, it can ultimately be harmful to their health.
You may start to notice things like your loved one starting to look unkept or having difficulty putting clothes on correctly.
These may be signs that your loved one needs help with personal care.
Helping with Personal Care
Some personal care duties a caregiver may need to help with include:
- Bath or shower assistance, including getting in and out safely
- Skincare, including applying lotion as needed
- Oral care, including brushing teeth or cleaning dental appliances
- Shaving or beard trimming
- Haircare, including combing, brushing, and styling hair
- Applying or removing makeup
- Finger And Toenail Care
- Getting clean clothes ready and dressing appropriately for the weather
Throughout the day
- Assist with toileting, including ensuring a safe transfer to and from the toilet
- Monitor incontinence and keep undergarments clean and dry
9. Mobility Assistance
Can your loved one get out of bed and go to the bathroom okay, without any help?
Can they safely walk up and down the stairs?
Your loved one may have difficulty with balance, walking, or transferring. Transferring can include to or from the bed, shower, toilet, or chair.
As a caregiver, ensure the home is safe and take steps to help prevent falls.
Have open conversations with your loved one and health care professionals about fall risk and prevention.
Another way to help with their mobility is to encourage exercise. Exercise can keep the legs strong and improve balance.
If your loved one is having difficulty walking, they may benefit by using an assistive device. This could include a cane, walker, or wheelchair.
If they show difficulty moving around, talk with their doctor to see if there is a device that may be beneficial.
It is also a good idea to ensure stairs have railings. In addition, grab bars can be helpful in key areas like near the toilet or shower.
10. Eating and Meal Preparation
Good nutrition is one part of an overall strategy to stay healthy.
Eating a balance of healthy foods may help prevent conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, anemia, and bone loss.
Seniors may struggle to get these nutrients because of things such as:
- Eating alone
- Experiencing a changing appetite
- Buying ready-made meals
- Slower metabolism
- Having a fixed income
As a caregiver, you may notice your loved one isn’t eating much, so you may need to encourage or help them to eat.
If they don’t take in enough calories, sometimes supplemental drinks (like Ensure) can be beneficial.
Follow Dietary Restrictions
Your loved one may have dietary restrictions.
If you are not sure, talk with their doctor. For some medical conditions, it is important a special diet is followed.
A few examples of restricted diets include:
- Diabetes diet, which limits sugar including fruit and refined flour
- Renal diet, which restricts things like fluid and salt intake
- Pureed diet, for people having trouble swallowing
Helping with Food Preparation
Cooking and food preparation can become increasingly difficult with age.
Seniors may have conditions that limit their ability to cook. For example, they may have pain, balance issues, or dementia.
Caregivers may need to help with meal planning and grocery shopping.
Meal preparation may also be beneficial for your loved one. Meal prepping is preparing several meals ahead of time. You store them, and then they are readily available for your loved one to heat up when hungry.
As your loved one ages, the reality is it may not be safe for them to drive or be alone on public transportation.
You may need to look for alternative transportation.
It is a good idea to ensure your loved one has a safe way to get to medical appointments, dental visits, grocery shopping, church, and other activities.
If you need help finding safe transportation for you senior, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
They are trained on finding resources in your area, and can help find transportation along with other services to help aging adults.
12. Cleaning and Organizing the Home
Often seniors may lack the strength or ability to clean their homes and organize their surroundings.
Caregivers may need to help keep things clean and organized so your loved one has a safe, healthy environment.
Caregiver responsibilities may include:
- Clean the kitchen, including counter, stovetop, and refrigerator
- Wash the floors, including sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming
- Wash and put away dishes
- Keep trash area clean and remove trash as needed
- Wash, dry, fold laundry, and put away
- Make the bed, change bedding
- Clean bathroom, including sink, toilet, and shower
- Get the mail, open and read mail, help with paying bills
- File receipts and maintain paperwork
- Outside yard and walkway maintenance
- Keep the home overall clean and organized
13. Communicate With Family
Family dynamics can be complicated.
When an aging parent or other relative needs help, the burden is not always split evenly.
Sometimes one person is shouldering most of the work.
Try to keep the entire family involved and ask them to take on some of the caregiver responsibilities.
Family members may want to keep up with how your loved one is doing.
You may want to:
- Update family members on any new or changing medical conditions
- Alert them of upcoming tests, medical visits, and outcomes
- Have a communication plan. For example, via Facebook or group text. This way you don’t have to repeat the same information individually to numerous family members
14. Help Monitor Health Conditions
Depending on the medical conditions of the care recipient, the caregiver may help monitor things like blood pressure, fluid intake, blood sugar values, or pain levels.
It is a good idea to keep this information together, so it is easily accessible.
To help caregivers stay organized and to help you monitor important information, download our FREE tracker tools that help you monitor common chronic conditions:
15. Finances and Paying Bills
You may notice your loved one has difficulty balancing the checkbook, writing checks, or counting money.
Sometimes helping with finances can be a touchy subject because they may not like losing their independence.
Therefore, try to treat the situation with respect and understanding.
It may be helpful to start slow by sitting beside them and helping them pay bills.
For example, you can review paperwork and mail together. This helps ensure your loved one understands and agrees with their statements.
It is a good idea to keep them involved with the process for as long as possible, so they can maximize their independence.
Power of Attorney
You may want to talk to your loved one about getting their written legal consent to help with finances, such as a durable power of attorney.
This way, if they are not able to do things like pay their bills, you can do it for them.
For more information about what a power of attorney is, read our post: Power Of Attorney The Complete Guide.
Organize Important Documents
When helping with your loved one’s financials, organize and get familiar with their finances. Important information includes:
- Health insurance, including what type of insurance they have and the benefits available.
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Rent or mortgage information
- Car title, auto loans, and insurance
- Review their monthly income and expenses to confirm bills can be paid. Review their bill-paying process (e.g., automatic payments or checks).
16. Advance Care Planning
Advance care planning is documenting your health care preferences, so that if you become incapacitated your wishes are known.
Understanding your loved one’s preferences will help future planning.
It’s much easier if you have the discussions now instead of making critical decisions during a crisis.
Some things to discuss include:
- What are their preferences regarding living arrangements for now and in the future?
- Do they have any fears or concerns about your medical conditions? For example, pain or invasive procedures.
- What type of help do you need now?
- If you could not pay bills or make decisions on your own, is there someone you trust that you would appoint to make them on your behalf? Who would that be?
- Do they have a health care proxy, or have their end-of-life preferences written anywhere? For example, in an advance directive or living will.
Common Advance Planning Documents Include:
- A health care proxy is sometimes called a health care power of attorney. This is helpful when someone needs to make medical decisions on your loved one’s behalf because your loved one cannot.
- A living will, also sometimes called an advanced directive, is a document that details end-of-life wishes. This only goes into effect when your loved one cannot make their own decisions and is in a terminal end-of-life situation.
- A durable power of attorney, which is sometimes called a power of attorney. This document names someone to take care of financial accounts, including decision-making authority.
- A Last Will and Testament is a legal document that outlines who will receive your loved one’s assets when they die. This includes personal property and real estate.
Keep Documents Updated
It’s essential to make sure your loved one’s health care planning documents stay organized and up to date.
They may already have some documents, like a health care proxy or a living will, but they may be very outdated.
In addition, ask your loved one to review business and financial documents.
Everyone should periodically review their beneficiaries on life insurance policies and all financial accounts, such as IRA, 401K, and bank accounts.
Discussions about end-of-life care can be sensitive and stressful for both the caregiver and care receiver.
For more information about advance care planning and suggestions on preparing for sensitive discussions, read our post Sensitive Discussions About End of Life Care.
For more information about Advance Care Planning, read our post: Advance Care Planning: The Complete Guide.
Caregiving can be complicated.
Although challenging at times, try to put yourself in the shoes of your loved one.
- They may be easily fatigued, have chronic pain, or experiencing medication side effects.
- Your loved one may have lost some of their independence and may not like having to depend on others for help.
- They may have memory loss or may not be in the right state of mind when they say things.
Some general caregiver guidelines include:
- Listen to your loved one. Try to focus your attention on what they are worried about.
- Give them as much independence as possible. If your loved one can do certain things, let them.
- Offer choices when you can. Can they pick out their clothes for the day, or what kind of sandwich they want for lunch? They are already losing some of their independence and freedom, and offering choices gives them some control.
- Be consistent. This provides a sense of security, and your loved one will know they can count on you. If your loved one needs help grocery shopping, take them once a week or every other week, but try to keep a routine. If you make promises, be sure to keep them.
- Involve the entire family. Have a family meeting and discuss the needs of your loved one. Caregiving should be a shared family responsibility, so ask your other family members to commit to specific tasks. For example, maybe one person can take your loved one grocery shopping and food prep each week, while another takes them to medical appointments.
- Take care of your emotional and physical health. See your doctor regularly and take your medications as prescribed. Caregiving, along with other responsibilities you have, can get exhausting. Make sure you have a support system and take breaks to recharge your batteries.
It is important to understand how stress may impact you or your loved ones.
It is helpful to recognize the potential harms of stress on your body and how they can be dealt with to live a happy and peaceful life.
For more information about stress and how it impacts your body, read our post: What is Stress?
Self-care is critical for caregivers so that they stay physically and emotionally healthy.
Self-care is essential to ensuring that you stay in an excellent mindset to continue providing support to others without burning out from stress and exhaustion.
The physical and emotional benefits of eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and staying hydrated are well documented.
Regular visits to your doctor, mindfulness, and relaxation can also be very beneficial.
For an in-depth discussion about caregiver self-care, read our post: Self-Care Tips For Caregivers.
Thinking about hiring an in-home caregiver?
You are a member of your loved one’s health care team, and your role is essential. In many cases, you may be the best one equipped to speak out on your loved one’s behalf or to ask the provider questions.
Caregiving duties and caregiving responsibilities can vary. Understanding your loved one’s medical conditions, medications, and limitations will help you develop a care plan. Depending on your loved one’s limitations, there might be numerous things they need help with.
Caregiving should be a shared family responsibility, so reach out to family members for their commitment to help. Most importantly, caregiving can be a long, exhausting journey, so make sure you take care of your physical and emotional well-being consistently along the way.