Caregiving and Being Prepared for Life’s Unexpected Challenges

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by Ray Burow |

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It is impossible to be ready for everything and anything, but the Boy Scout motto “Be prepared” is good advice for any caregiver. This is especially true for caregivers of those with dementia.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease make it difficult to be prepared, because we can’t be certain about what will happen next. Nevertheless, there are steps caregivers can take to lessen the element of surprise when random things happen.

Are you ready to go?

When thinking about being prepared while caregiving, I am reminded of when my children were small. The math was easy: Five kids should equal 10 shoes. But someone was always missing a shoe when it was time to leave the house. That was maddening, but in a pinch, kids can go barefoot in the car.

If something out of the ordinary were to occur while you’re caring for a loved one, could you get up and out of the house with them at a moment’s notice?

In an emergency, or even just on a harried day, it’s helpful to have everything laid out and ready to go. Could you immediately place your hands on the car keys in the middle of the night? Could you find your purse and, dare I ask, your shoes? Most people could, but it only takes one weird night to cause regret.

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Overnight bag

Prepare an overnight bag for your loved one and keep it in your bedroom to ensure it stays intact. If the person for whom you provide care falls ill, or if you as a caregiver have an emergency, you can grab the bag and go. If your loved one stays with family or friends while you’re dealing with the crisis, everything they need is in the bag.

Put a list of medications in the bag. Don’t forget to plainly write out which medications your loved one takes and the schedule for dispensing them. Place medications in the bag at the last minute before heading out the door. Include a dispenser that has the days clearly marked on it. If you don’t know how long you’ll be away, include the pills in the prescription bottles.

Place toiletries, several changes of clothes, and pajamas in the bag. If your loved one wears paper underwear (otherwise known as adult diapers, but we don’t like that term), include them, too. Keep an unopened box to grab and go.

What to take to the hospital

Hospitals are notoriously cold, so always bring a sweater or light throw blanket to toss about your loved one’s shoulders while they wait to be seen. Bring your loved one’s picture identification, and don’t forget yours, too. To receive a visitor’s pass at the hospital, you’ll need to show identification and have a photo taken, usually at the security guard’s desk.

A triage nurse will ask multiple questions about health history and current symptoms. It’s great if you can write down thoughts beforehand and refer back to them. The chances are slim that you’ll be able to do such a thing, because getting to the hospital is the priority. But keep in mind what’s transpired and be prepared to explain it to the nurse.

Hospital staff also will want a list of medications and the name of your loved one’s primary care physician. It would help if you had these at your fingertips. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of this in the go bag.

Don’t leave your patience at home, either. A person with dementia probably will ask the same questions over and over again, such as, “Why are we here?” “What’s taking so long?” “When can we go home?”

Their lack of patience, while trying, is understandable. They don’t remember why they’re there, and why they can’t go home yet. The tendency for the caregiver — at least it is for me — is to become impatient as well. Please don’t!

The nurses, techs, doctors, and hospital staff aren’t holding you and your loved one hostage. Finding the solution to your loved one’s problem takes time, not to mention that there are many sick people to be seen, perhaps with more emergent issues. Practice patience.

What not to take to the hospital

Do not take snacks or drinks for your loved one to nosh on while waiting to see the doctor. Feel free to ask the nurse if your loved one can eat or drink, but don’t expect the answer to be yes. Eating and drinking could complicate diagnostics and, of course, it isn’t advisable if surgery is needed.

If your loved one has dementia, or even if they don’t, avoid taking their purse and other personal or valuable items that can become lost or stolen. I don’t know what it is about a pocketbook, but in my experience, keeping up with my mother’s purse was a never-ending task. It seemed like I was always answering the dreaded question, “Have you seen my purse?”

Finally, don’t be afraid to advocate. It’s the most critical aspect of being prepared.


Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


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