Marker denoting the original starting point of the famed Boston Marathon in Ashland/Photo by Douglas Flynn

Caring for a loved one can be one of most daunting challenges you will undertake. It can also be one of the most rewarding. But to help things go as positively as possible for both yourself and your care recipient, it is crucial to understand the challenges ahead and how to prepare for them.

Here is a brief rundown of what to expect and what you need to prepare for over the course of your caregiving journey:

1. Learn about your loved one’s illness, condition or disease

  • Talk to a health care provider. Find out if this is a long- or short-term situation. What are the specific care needs that will be expected, both now and over time?
  • Get more information from books, pamphlets and the internet. Start by exploring this site. Unsure what you need? Use our Caregiver Concierge and let us guide you.
  • Ask about special skills you may need to learn, such as how to lift a person with limited mobility or how to give medications.
Potted flowers brighten up a path in Marlborough/Photo by Douglas Flynn


2. Explore your options

  • Write down all of the specific needs your loved one could possibly have: bathing, meals, transportation, doctors’ appointments, laundry, shopping, etc.
  • Discuss ways to meet those needs with the person being cared for, family members, friends and healthcare providers.

3. Research community resources

  • Contact the information and referral department of your local Aging Services Access Point and Area Agency on Aging (BayPath Elder Services, HESSCO, Springwell, Tri-Valley serve MetroWest) to find out what services they have available in the community.
  • Contact your local Council on Aging’s outreach worker for social service information.
  • Call organizations specific to your loved one’s disease or health conditions. For example, contact the Alzheimer`s Association.
  • Explore options such as adult day programs, meals on wheels, transportations services, respite and home care. These are usually available through your local ASAP.
  • If financially feasible, consider hiring some outside help for household chores, personal care of your loved ones or even things you would normally do yourself to alleviate some of the responsibilities. The Massachusetts Home Care Program also provides help with such care for older adults who meet specified income limits and needs. Contact your local ASAP for more information about the program.
  • Keep the information you collect in a notebook or computer.

4. Plan for immediate care

  • Ask the person being cared for about their wishes around immediate care. It is important to involve the care recipient in all decision making and ultimately respect their wishes.
  • Adapt the living environment for special needs, such as a walker, wheelchair, commode, etc.
  • Develop a plan to track the person’s health care needs. Keep a log or journal of eating patterns, medications and physical symptoms.
  • If other family members will be providing support, write down who will be responsible for what.

5. Enlist the help of others

  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. You cannot do this alone.
  • Enlist the help of others, or have a friend or family member emphasize you need help.
  • List the tasks that others can do, such as running errands or bringing a meal, and have them sign up to spread out the responsibilities.

6. Organize important information

  • Write down doctors’ names, addresses and phone numbers; medical names of illnesses; medical insurance information; prescription numbers, names and doses.
  • Organize financial information such as bills, loans, bank accounts and insurance policies. To get an idea of the kind of issues that will need to be addressed and information needed, check out our Financial and Legal section.
  • Photocopy important information such as social security numbers, driver’s licenses and insurance cards.

7. Plan for emergencies

  • Be sure to have emergency plans in place in case something happens to you, the primary caregiver.

8. Plan for the future

  • Become informed on the long-term prognosis of your care recipient. Knowing what to expect will help you plan for care.
  • Assess finances. Talk to a financial advisor familiar with care issues.
  • Talk to a lawyer or legal aid about health care proxy, durable power of attorney, etc.
  • If financially feasible, consider seeking out the help of a geriatric care manager, who can work with the family and the loved one. Geriatric care managers can help organize and facilitate family meetings as well as define expectations.

9. Get support

10. Make a plan for keeping your life together

  • Talk to your friends and family members. Enlist their support.
  • Find out if your employer has an employee assistance program for caregivers.
  • Let go of less important commitments. No one can do it all.
  • Continue to do at least one hobby that brings you pleasure.
  • Take regular breaks from caregiving.
  • Make sure you are meeting your own care needs: eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, exercising, regularly spending time with friends or family. You cannot care for another person if you are not healthy and taking care of yourself.

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