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5 things caregivers for serious health concerns should know

caregiver / husband wife / wheelchair
A caregiver helps a person manage parts of their daily life after being diagnosed with a serious health concern.

When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious health concern, their world may be suddenly turned upside down. They often rely on a family member or friend – a caregiver, to help them manage parts of their daily lives.

“I see it nearly every day where caregivers drop everything to help their loved one,” said Colette Zunk, oncology social worker at Marshfield Clinic Health System.

Someday you may suddenly find yourself in this role. If this happens to you, here are five areas on which to focus.

You will need their medical history

When faced with a serious health concern, you will need to provide medical information to the care team. This is why it is important to write your loved one’s medical history down so you do not forget it.

Things you should write down include:

  • Name and date of birth
  • Their diagnosis
  • Any tests they have had completed
  • Recommended treatment
  • Allergies
  • Other medical conditions
  • Names and contact information for their doctors
  • List of current medications, dosages and reasons for taking

Get their medical affairs in order

At some point as a caregiver, you may need to make medical decisions for them. It is important to have certain forms filled out as soon as possible.

“Having things like a release of information and advance directive completed early or even before the health issue will make a patient’s wishes known, and ultimately make everyone’s life easier,” said Zunk.

A release of information form allows you as the caregiver to access their medical information and appointments. Having this signed will allow you to help them with their care as it progresses.

An advance directive allows your loved one to formally name their health care agent and define your authority related to their health care decisions. It also allows them to express their wishes related to treatment options should they be unable to communicate when the time comes.

You may need to manage finances

As a caregiver, you may need to take over your loved one’s finances at some point. You should begin talking about finances as soon as possible.

This includes familiarizing yourself with your loved one’s insurance plan. You should always be asking whether certain procedures are covered by insurance and whether there may be a cheaper alternative that will provide the same results.

Familiarizing yourself with their financial situation and ensuring all financial advance directive paperwork is taken care of is important. You may need to help them pay medical and household bills in the future.

Take care of yourself

While this health issue is really stressful for your loved one, it also can be stressful on you as the caregiver. This is why it is important to practice good self-care.

“So many times the caregiver worries more about the person they are caring for than themselves. If a caregiver does not take care of themselves, they may not be able to help when their loved one needs them the most,” Zunk said.

As a caregiver, you should:

  • Eat well-balanced meals: Eat on a regular schedule and drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
  • Get enough sleep: Strive for a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Nap when your loved one naps.
  • Exercise daily: Move your body every day, even if it is simply 15 minutes of stretching, yoga, climbing stairs or other exercises.
  • Take time for yourself: Take a break each day and ask for help. Keep up with hobbies and interests. Join a support group.
  • Monitor levels of stress: Use relaxation or stress management methods such as meditation, visualization and yoga.

You can ask for help

While it may seem like you are in this alone, there are many people willing to help. Friends, family and religious groups are often eager to chip in.

Your care team also can provide you with many resources that can help ease your burden. Available resources may include:

Talk to any member of your care team to find these and many other resources available for you as a caregiver.

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