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5 Organizing Tips to Lessen Caregiver Stress

If you’re overwhelmed by all you have to do, it may help to put some key things in order.

A man planning on paper; Getty Images

Julie Hayes is the Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

The demands of caregiving can easily bring you to the boiling point. Keeping track of all you have to do for your loved one is only part of the equation, but it’s a big part. When you streamline important tasks and get better prepared in case of an emergency, it can help you to feel less overwhelmed.

A survey by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that stress management was tied for the number one concern caregivers reported, along with fears for a loved one’s safety. Organization can be one of the most effective ways to manage stress.  

The following tips can help to bring more order to your caregiving responsibilities:

  1. Stay on schedule with a calendar

A calendar is the most obvious way to stay on top of things like dates for doctor’s visits and social events. But it can also be an excellent tool for a variety of things that might be forgotten amidst the daily hubbub of your caregiving duties. You can jot down anything you need to remember, like times to dispense your loved one’s prescriptions or days that the grandkids plan to come by. A traditional paper calendar or datebook is easy to use and works particularly well if you want to give one to your loved one as well. But you may also want to try a digital calendar, which can make setting up regularly occurring things like mealtimes simple. The best part is that you’ll get reminders when a scheduled event is coming up.

Don’t forget to include your own appointments and personal plans, as well. This will help you to stay apprised of any scheduling conflicts, so that you can arrange for someone else to lend a hand when necessary.

  1. Devise a system to manage prescriptions

Your loved one’s prescriptions are important to his or her health, but managing them requires more than organizing pills. A good system involves filling the pill organizer with the correct numbers for each day, as well as seeing to it that your loved one takes each medication at the proper time, and that they are refilled before they run out.

As discussed, your calendar is a great way to keep track of medications. It can help you to remember when they should be taken, as well as when they need to be refilled. If you’re not able to set up automated prescriptions, or choose not to, make a point of asking the pharmacist how far ahead of time you can request the refills. Certain pharmacies even have “medication synchronization” options, which allow you to set up a single monthly pickup day for all prescriptions, so that you don’t have to make a run several times each month.

It’s also a good idea to keep a list of the correct dosages for each medication your loved one takes. This is not only important for you to have, but is very helpful to share with other caregivers who step in for you when you can’t be there.

  1. Keep notes of your observations

Jot down notes of important observations about your loved one’s condition, symptoms and behavior. You can do this on a regular notepad or on something more high-tech like your phone’s Notes app. Keeping these notes can help jog your memory in discussions with your loved one’s medical team, and can help you adapt your caregiving to what your loved one needs at a given time. For instance, if you’ve noticed things or situations that your loved one finds distracting or upsetting, you can be careful to avoid them as you move forward.

  1. Draw up a list of emergency contacts

Keep contact information for your own, as well as your loved one’s:

  • Primary care doctor
  • Pharmacist
  • Main hospital/ER
  • Additional caregivers
  • Family members/friends
  • Neighbors

Before you create the list, have a discussion with family, friends and neighbors about who is able and willing to respond in case of an emergency. If your loved one has a large family, it’s important to determine who is close by, has access to reliable transportation and is in the best position to provide assistance.

  1. Plan before a crisis occurs

A crisis can upend even the most organized individual, so it’s important to have plans in place before something happens. Get to know the location and routes to hospitals that are close by. Note people on your emergency contact list who are in the best position to provide assistance. Dispense the information so that the key people in your loved one’s network are clear on how to access your loved one’s identification, insurance information and list of medications. If your loved one hasn’t made advance directives, encourage him or her to do so, so that those who help out in an emergency will be informed of any medical wishes and can honor them.

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