‘You want me to do what?’ New Demands on Caregivers

Health care has changed a great deal in recent years, and not all the changes pleasant. However, most patients agree recovering at home is better than the longer hospital stays of the past. Being in one’s own home often makes recovery easier.

But earlier discharges from the hospital have changed the role of the caregivers dramatically. Instead of just accompanying patients to doctor appointments, caregivers can now be expected to dispense medications, sort out the side effects of medications, clean wounds, coordinate visits of the home care professionals and learn the use of medical equipment.

Today, 65.7 million Americans are involved in informal caregiving for their loved ones who are ill or elderly. These caregivers may feel unprepared for the new roles. What can caregivers do?

First, be aware you have a choice in the home-care or hospice company serving you at home. Doctors often recommend their favorite agency, but families can ask about other agencies that serve their area or research other companies themselves. Sites like medicare.gov can be great sources of information.

When choosing a company to serve your loved one at home, consider asking the following: How long has your agency served my neighborhood? Do the agency’s staff members live in our area? What services are offered in addition to nursing visits? If my loved one’s condition worsens at night or on weekends, can you come then? Do you offer respite if I need a break from caregiving?

Once your loved one has been discharged from the hospital, be aware that part of the home-care nurse’s role is to train the caregiver. Home-care nurses understand that it often takes several times explaining a procedure before caregivers can do it alone. Home-care staff members welcome questions from caregivers so ask lots of questions:

If you are unsure whether your loved one is experiencing a side effect of medication, call your nurse.

If your loved one is distressed regarding their illness or you feel stressed, ask your social worker for counseling.

If you need help paying for care, ask for a visit from your social worker.

If you’re having trouble coordinating the care of multiple providers, ask your home-care team to help.

AARP offers a series of videos with tips for caregivers. Googling a topic is another way to find great online help, but you should always check to see that a trusted organization is the one providing the tips.

If you don’t have medical professionals coming to your home, ask your doctor if he or she can refer your loved one for home-health or hospice services. Call the Family Caregiver Program for respite grant at (864) 242-9733.

A caregiver support group can be an invaluable resource. In Oconee County, the Prisma Health Hospice of the Foothills group next meets March 7 at 3 p.m.at the Cottingham Hospice House (390 Keowee School Road, Seneca).

When you’re already overloaded with new responsibilities as a caregiver, it’s hard to even remember which questions to ask. Talk to your healthcare professionals about what you need and where to turn for additional help. We want you to be able to focus more on enjoying your days with your loved one.

Eunice Lehmacher, a licensed independent social worker, is the bereavement coordinator at Prisma Health Hospice of the Foothills in Seneca. For additional information about the program, visit ghs.org/healthcareservices/hospice-of-the-foothills/

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