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A Guide for Family Members and Professionals

Are You...

  • caring for your elderly mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, in-law, or other family member, such as a son, daughter, brother, or sister?
  • caring for a senior as part of your profession?
  • caring for a husband, wife, partner, or friend?

If so, then you are a caregiver!

What Kinds of Caregivers are There?

There are many different types of caregivers, each one based on the type of care a patient or loved one requires.
Part-time caregivers generally provide relief to their full-time counterparts. This may be on evenings, weekends, or during the day, and may be on a professional basis (such as paid), or a personal one.
A casual caregiver is someone who assists a full-time or permanent caregiver on an occasional basis. They may be a family member, friend, or professional that steps in when a regular caregiver is unavailable.
Live-in caregivers can either be family members or hired professionals that care for and live with a patient. Live-in caregivers generally provide round-the-clock care.
A temporary caregiver is someone who is caring for a patient that only needs care for a fixed amount of time. This could be due to a patient recovering from a surgery or an injury, or someone filling in for a primary caregiver while they are away.
Permanent caregivers have long-term patients or loved ones who they will be attending to for the foreseeable future. They can be live-in or live-out, depending on the needs of the patient or loved one and their family.
Full-time caregivers can either be professionals who work full-time for a minimum of one patient, or for a variety of different ones, or they can be a round-the-clock caregiver, such as a family member.

What Does a Caregiver do?

A caregiver is someone who provides health care or support to a patient or loved one who is either physically or mentally ill. Since the needs of each patient are different, caregivers often need to provide a variety of services to those in their care.
Often, caregivers assist their patients or loved ones by:
Some patients require a lot of assistance, while others will only require help with a meal or some light cleaning. Patient needs may also vary from day to day, depending on the illness or type of incapacitation, so caregivers are often versatile in their roles in order to make their patients or loved ones as comfortable as possible.

Conversations to Have With Your Loved Ones

Communication is a key part of the relationship between a caregiver and a patient. It's important that the caregiver understand the needs and wants of their ward, and for a patient to be able to communicate their feelings in turn.

Aside from a general understanding between patient and caregiver and the current wants of each, it's also essential to discuss the patient's future wishes, especially if they are ill or elderly. Consider discussing the following topics with your patient or loved one to ensure that you understand any end-of-life goals or wishes that they may have: Most caregivers monitor the health and general well-being of their patients with each visit. That is a natural part of being a caregiver, since most patients are either physically or mentally ill. But aside from the day-to-day, there are other topics that you should cover as well, including:

  • Whether the patient would like to be resuscitated in the event of an emergency.
  • What their preferences are in terms of life support, life sustaining treatments, organ donation, and terminal illness.
  • Any illness, treatments, or medications that they feel strongly about.
Ask your patient if they have a Health Care DirectiveA Health Care Directive is a document that helps your patient or loved one to list their personal health care preferences, like whether they want to be resuscitated in an emergency, or if they want to donate organs. detail their preferences, and if they don't, encourage them to make one so that doctors have something to reference in the event of an emergency.
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Any adult patient will have some sort of financial life, which could range from owning properties to having a small allowance. Discussing the financial situation and wishes of your loved one or patient helps you to ensure that their needs are met. There are a variety of financial conversations to have with your loved one or patient, each depending on their situation.


If your patient or loved one will need financial, real estate, or business decisions made on their behalf, they should name a representative in a Power of AttorneyA Power of Attorney allows a patient or loved one to designate someone to manage their finances, properties, or make other decisions on their behalf.

Without a Power of Attorney, it can be difficult to manage day-to-day finances in your patient or loved one's stead.
document. Even if they only require someone to pay their bills or to deposit checks in their name, whoever they choose will need documentation in order to do so.


If your patient or loved one has to undergo treatment or take prescriptions alongside other bills like utilities and groceries or rent, a process should be decided for doing so. If they need someone else to take care of those things for them, find out who that may be and make sure that any receipts or bills are forwarded to them.


Sometimes patients or loved ones may require extra services, such as hygiene or beauty assistance, or other supplemental care. Talk about what types of supplemental care they desire and help ensure that they are able to afford any extra costs. If necessary, provide them with multiple options so that they may choose which they prefer.
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Your responsibilities as a caregiver are not limited to the medical and financial aspects of your patient's life. You also need to provide guidance in any and all end-of-life questions or decisions that they may have. As the primary source of support to your ward, you should have an idea of what legal questions your patient may need to explore in the future. Common things to discuss include:


You should ask your patient if they have created a Last Will and TestamentA Last Will and Testament is a legal document that allows you to designate who will receive your assets, like your car, family home, or investments, after you pass away.

Without one, your possessions will be divided as per your state's laws.
at any point, and if so, when it was last updated. If they have experienced any major life events, such as births, deaths, significant increase in debts or assets, etc. it may be time to revise their previous wishes. If they do not have a Last Will, you should explain to your patient that if they do not create one, they will not be able to choose who their assets are given to once they pass away.


Part of being a caregiver means covering potentially uncomfortable topics, and your patient's desired funeral arrangements is one of them, but that doesn't mean you should avoid the conversation.

If your patient has preferences about whether they are buried or cremated, make sure that they are documented so that loved ones can be sure to respect their wishes. Discussing their wants and needs for a funeral, memorial, or wake can help your patient to feel a sense a control when so many other things, like their health or even their independence, are out of reach.


The assets, debts, and properties of an individual are almost like a financial outline of their life. You need to be sure that someone trustworthy is there to manage those aspects of your patient's life and prompt them to decide who they wish to leave any of these things to after they die.

In order for any of their decisions to be valid, their preferences need to be documented. It's a good idea to talk to your patient about what will happen to their assets, such as their family home, if they do not designate anyone to inherit their belongings.
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Where your patient lives greatly depends on their overall health, both in the short- and long-term, and if they will be dependent on supplementary care temporarily, or for the rest of their life. It is likely that whatever their ailment may be, whether physical or mental, it will affect their living arrangements.

Depending on the mental capacity of your patient, where they live may either be up to them, or to the family. As a caregiver, you may be the best person to provide advice or suggestions as to where your patient will be the most comfortable.

If your patient lives alone in a large family home and has trouble getting around or just managing the space, it might be time for them to move into something smaller that supports their needs. For some, that means becoming part of a senior's community, assisted living facility, nursing home, or even moving in with loved ones.

Not all patients need to move, but many will need to change the way that they live. That could mean having a live-in caregiver, or just renovating their current home to better suit their health situation.

It's important to include your loved one or patient in this conversation so that they can offer insight into their own preferences and their personal wishes.
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Taking Care of Yourself and Your Patient or Loved One

Both patients and caregivers need to ensure that they are as healthy as possible, both physically and mentally. While illness can be stressful and difficult to endure, caregiving is often also a difficult and taxing responsibility that takes strength, patience, and understanding.

It's important to not only ensure that your patient or loved one is cared for, but that you, as a caregiver, are as well. You can start by:
  • Making sure that you find time for yourself.
  • Joining an online or in-person support group.
  • Becoming informed about your patient and their ailment.
  • Effectively managing your emotions.
  • Staying positive.
One key part of being a caregiver is understanding the hard truths of your patient or loved one's illness. Be aware of their state of health and what the possible outcomes may be. By understanding the illness, you can begin to understand what your future as a caregiver will look like, helping you to prepare for any long-term patient needs.

If, for any reason, you foresee that you will be unable to provide long-term care to your patient or loved one, explore what other options you have and talk them over together. Perhaps you want to offer part-time care, but will need help the rest of the time, or maybe it isn't financially viable for you to become a full-time caregiver. Whatever your reasons, be sure to explore outside options with your patient to find an arrangement that suits both of you.

How to Care for a Patient or Loved One

You and your patient are probably experts on what sort of care they require and have developed a routine around it. But some of the simple and most important tasks can get lost in the day-to-day if you don't make an effort. As a caregiver, remember to:
  • Listen to your patient. Have a conversation with them that doesn't revolve around the illness.
  • Respect your patient's wishes even when you don't necessarily agree with them.
  • Promote independence in any way that you can.
  • Set boundaries when necessary.
  • Support your patient's interests and hobbies.
Your patient shouldn't have to go through an illness alone. It's important that they feel supported and understood as much as possible so that they aren't left feeling isolated and confused.

As a caregiver, you can help by attending doctor's appointments, learning about any and all medications, being aware of current and future treatment plans, what any chances of potential recovery may be, and understanding the short- and long-term effects of any illness they have.

You can also assist with practical tasks, whether you are a full-time caregiver or just a back-up. Ask your patient if they need help with things like:
  • Shopping
  • Driving
  • Picking up mail
  • Setting up appointments
  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • or any other basic tasks
Remember that caring for someone is a balancing act, and that you need to care for yourself as well as your patient. Whether you are a professional caregiver, or you are looking after a friend or loved one, be sure to provide your patient with the individual care that they need by being receptive to their requests, supporting their decisions, and being there for them when they need it.

Help them to solidify their preferences and wishes by encouraging them to begin estate planning while they are able to do so.
Caregiving certainly isn't an easy responsibility to take on, but it can be both a rewarding and powerful experience.
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