Caring for Loved Ones at Home

An Illustrated, Easy-to-Follow Guide to Short or Long-term Care 4th Edition.

6. Home Care Suggestions

There are many books listed in the reference section on the subject of home care and what family members can do and learn to make the situation more comfortable for everyone involved. The following are a few suggestions:

Remember that people do not change much in character because of their illness. If they were easygoing, caring and enjoyed a good joke before their illness they will probably be the same now. If they were unsatisfied with their lives, not easy to please and uncommunicative, they will probably not change a great deal because they are dying. Therefore, treat them respectfully and give them the opportunity to direct your involvement in their care.

Do not try to force someone to eat. People need control over their lives and should be encouraged to make their own decisions. Patients know that food is important to living. Their diet may be prescribed but a hot plate, small cooler or refrigerator by the bed allows them to eat many small meals when they are hungry. Also have lots of liquids available. If the person needs some help with eating, remember to keep common courtesies as part of the help. Do not make them go too fast or too slow. Give them a proper napkin and place setting, if possible. Remember that older people's tongues change shape and they must be fed differently than young children or adults.

If conditions permit, encourage patients to decide if they wish to smoke, drink, walk around and have visitors. Even if these activities are tiring or unhealthy, the decision must rest with the person who is dying unless it harms someone else.

Although family members often want to do what is best for their loved one, they must not forget about themselves. If you feel like you are being used, say so. If you are uncomfortable with decisions that the ill person has made, be honest about your feelings and arrange for someone else to help.

Have a bell or other device available so that people in bed feel they have direct access to you. An ability to make contact, at their discretion, is crucial for the emotional support of people who are ill.

Have music and television available. People who are great sports fans, for example, may benefit from a channel that has sports most of the day. This may be a great distraction from what is happening to them physically.

Perhaps you can move the bed to the living room, den or other area where the person who is ill feels more a part of the family and everyday living situations. If you live in a multi-level home you might move the patient to a ground floor room. If the bed is near a window the person can see what is going on outside.

If the person needs to stay in bed for a long time, get a hospital-style bed or raise the one you have so that the people helping do not hurt their backs.

For the caregivers at home, get all the help you need from your family, friends and professionals. Most people do not know what to do under these circumstances so they need to know how they can be helpful at this important time. Ask for specific help with chores, errands or providing care to your loved one.

If the person is chronically or terminally ill, you may want to buy or borrow a home care book specifically for your situation. See the references listed at the back of this book for suggestions. Visit our Web site for free information at

Helping a loved one at home sometimes requires you to act as their spokesperson or advocate. When you work with the health care providers (e.g., doctors, nurses or pharmacists) make sure that:

The person is properly fed the prescribed food on time.

The person's medication and treatment is accurate and given at the proper times.

Any tests or examinations have been approved.

The doctor and other caregivers communicate with your loved ones and you about all matters.

The person is given a sense of control and respect.

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Caring for Loved Ones at Home

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Copyright © 1996, 1999, 2002, 2006 Harry van Bommel

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