Senior Caregiving

Organizing for Caregivers

If you are taking care of an elderly loved one, please take a minute to pat yourself on the back.


Caregiving is one of the greatest acts of love.


It is also an incredibly difficult job both physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sadly, it can often be thankless as well. It has the challenges of raising a child without the built-in joy. The joy must come from within, knowing that this is the right thing to do. 

A caregiver can easily succumb to stress, isolation, and exhaustion. I speak from personal experience, by the way, as I was my mother’s full-time caregiver for the last six years of her life. The most important thing I learned during that time was that I had to take care of myself too. If I didn’t, I would become so depleted that I could barely care for my mother or myself. I needed to ASK FOR HELP.

There are many resources available in the Hampton Roads area including senior programs at the recreation centers, adult day care, and many more. Please avail yourself of these programs early and often. Many situations arise while caregiving that are beyond anyone’s control. 


Fortunately, there are steps you can take to organize some areas of your caregiving journey.



A process needs to be in place for making medical, financial, and end-of-life decisions, especially if the loved one is mentally incapacitated or there are many interested parties. 

The following are the minimum documents that you should have professionally prepared and signed by your loved one.

  • Medical Power of Attorney/Health Care Proxy

  • Advanced Care Directive/Living Will

  • POLST if frail or diagnosed with advanced illness 

  • Last Will and Testament

  • Financial Power of Attorney (POA)

URGENT: If your loved one is not mentally incapacitated, assume they will be someday and get their paperwork in order. You should also do this for yourself to protect them. Bureaucratic headaches will be unavoidable if you don’t have these papers.

Advocating for the loved one and navigating health care and insurance systems is hard enough. If you don’t have the right documents, it is nearly impossible.

Of course, there is paperwork for appointments, medical records, medications, etc. that needs to be tracked.  A strong filing system is your best friend here. 



Organizing your loved one’s team of medical professionals can be challenging as some choices will be dictated by their insurance. 

It is my experience that wonderful people are working in the medical field as well as those who are just in it for the paycheck. Find the good ones and hold on to them. Do your best to hold the less-than-ideal ones accountable by being organized with goals, care plans, and medications at all times.

Having a doctor that you can work with and reach easily is crucial as they can often get things done for you when no one else can. You should shop around if you are not satisfied with the current doctor, or if budget allows, employ a concierge doctor.

A social worker can also be helpful and if your loved one is hospitalized, avail yourself of the hospital social worker’s assistance. It is my experience that some are more helpful than others so again, if you find someone you can relate with, keep in communication with them.

Other medical professionals that you will probably encounter are physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The good ones are invaluable.

More tips:

Make use of fall prevention programs early and often.

Music therapy can provide relief for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

You need at least one person who can give you some respite and help you manage activities of daily living.



The care environment can be optimized through efficient systems and organization. You may want your loved one’s room to have the efficiency of a hospital room but with more warmth and comfort. 

All items for care such as a first aid kit, lots of clean towels and washcloths, adult diapers, if you are using them, etc. should be stored on open shelves or containers near the bed, so that you can grab them at a moment’s notice. 

You should have an ample surface space dedicated to medications only. Weekly pill reminder containers are usually a must. 

Adding plants like ferns which clean the air or fresh flowers, calming aromatherapy, soft music or television, depending on preference, and soothing lighting like a salt lamp are nice touches. Make sure there is a comfortable place for the caregiver to either sit or sleep depending on needs.

If there is a master bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, this will make things easier, especially as your loved one becomes more infirm. The floor should be non-slip and free of throw rugs. These rugs are one of the number one causes of falls in the home. Install grab bars near the commode and on the inside and outside walls of the shower. A handheld shower makes washing and toileting much easier. 

As time goes on, you will probably need durable medical equipment such as a “three-in-one” and a shower chair. Medicare is covering less and less of this so check thrift stores early and often to be proactive.

A word about hospice – hospice is a status that does not necessarily indicate the imminent departure of your loved one. It is available when your loved one no longer wishes or is not going to improve. 

It will preclude PT, OT, and Speech Therapies as the patient must be improving to qualify for Medicare payments on those services.

The reason I mention it is because once a patient has hospice status, there are more Medicare-paid resources available.

Time management is often at the whim of your loved one, but if you take care of as many physical barriers as possible, there is more energy left for the mind and spirit.


By Jennifer Dwight


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