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Thursday, October 26, 2017

3 Expert Medical Tips for Family Caregivers

Every November, organizations around the country including the American Heart Association recognize family caregivers near and wide for National Family Caregiver Month. Over 40 million caregivers in the U.S. provide some version of care for a family member or other loved one - from managing prescription refills and doctors appointments to dressing wounds, administering medicine, and helping their loved one eat and drink.

As more and more members of the Baby Boomer generation enter their Golden Years (65+) in the next decade, more and more of their children will be called on to help provide care. Skills like being organized and communicating well will help family caregivers wrangle health insurance companies and medical providers. However, knowledge of a handful of medical and skilled nursing duties will go a long way as well. These include:

Monitoring Vitals
Being able to monitor vitals, whether your aging parent is perfectly healthy or suffering from a chronic condition, will come in handy as a family caregiver in helping you detect early signs of illness and take action. Tracking blood pressure can be done manually with a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, and pressure reading device, or more simply with a digital monitor that goes over the arm or wrist. 

Monitoring temperature to track a fever (which can indicate an infection) is made easy with an array of digital ear, forehead, or oral thermometers. And digital pulse oximeters which read oxygen saturation levels can easily slip onto a finger and give you an accurate picture of your loved one’s oxygen intake. All of these helpful devices can be found online or in most drugstores. Family caregivers should aim to track vitals regularly (daily if possible) and record them to maintain a baseline for their loved one’s condition. That way, if something is off, like a high temperature or low blood pressure, you’ll be quick to seek medical attention.

Preventing Falls
Did you know that if the loved one you look after is over the age of 65, they have a 1 in 4 chance of falling in or around their home? Falls can lead to debilitating hip fractures, hospitalization, and other life-threatening complications. As a family caregiver, preventing falls should be a primary concern, especially if your loved one has mobility problems, is elderly, or has a chronic condition which impairs their vision, balance, or strength.

Equipment like bed rails, grab bars, and raised toilet seats can be easily installed or assembled and offer extra support for your loved one when they are rising, sitting, or navigating challenging environments like stairways. Check out the 10 best bed rails for adults here. Other actions which can help prevent falls in the home include clearing away excess clutter and trip hazards, making sure consistent lighting is accessible from room to room, and placing guide tape and nonslip fall mats by beds and in bathrooms.

Recognizing Infections and Dehydration
Often what monitoring vital signs helps to do is pick up on early clues that your loved one has developed an infection or is dehydrated. However, other common symptoms can be just as indicative. For example, did you know that when an elderly person or someone with existing cognitive decline has a urinary tract infection, they’ll often appear disoriented and confused? Or that pneumonia might actually cause a dry, unproductive cough and low oxygen saturation levels? Or that dehydration can cause your loved one’s blood pressure to rapidly drop?

Common infections of older adults like pneumonia and UTI’s, as well as chronic dehydration among seniors can have a huge impact on you and your loved one’s life. Having a basic knowledge of well known symptoms and warning signs of potential medical issues that could sneak up on your loved one will help you in multiple ways. You will know when to seek medical attention sooner, you might be able to skip a trip to the hospital by speaking with your doctor or home health agency first, and you could even end up saving your loved one’s life.

This is a guest blog post.

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