Caregiving for a loved one with an illness

Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2011

By Kat D. from Fallon Community Health Plan (in memory of Bub)

If you’re one of 29%* of Americans, you’re a caregiver for an elderly person – a spouse, a parent, a friend, a neighbor. My own caregiving story began two years ago when we were blindsided by my grandfather’s prostate cancer diagnosis.

BubIn a matter of weeks, my previously active and independent grandfather (photo on the right) became unable to drive or to walk without help. Along with coping with the fear and grief that comes along with a diagnosis of any serious illness, our family had to figure out, quickly, how to help care for him.

Here’s what I learned: caregiving is hard. It can be overwhelming and frustrating and scary. But it’s also rewarding. I learned some other things too, which I hope can help other caregivers. 

  • Start with a conversation - Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one’s illness and what it means for him and for your family. Having an open and honest conversation can help make the necessary decision-making processes easier.
  • Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s illness - Sometimes it’s easier to face a new situation when you know more about it. After my grandfather’s prostate cancer diagnosis, we searched the internet to find reliable, up-to-date information about the disease and the treatments that were available.
  • Look to medical professionals – The doctors, nurses and therapists who cared for my grandfather were great help. Go to your loved one’s doctor’s appointments, ask questions and take notes. More tips
  • Get organized - With so many different people involved in my grandfather’s care, it wasn’t always easy to make sure his doctors had all the information they needed to care for him. To make this easier, we made a list that included my grandfather’s medications, treatments and symptoms. More tips
  • Get help - When someone asks you if he or she can help, say “yes.” Keep a to-do list of items that you need help with. No one asking to help? Don’t be afraid to reach out. More tips

Don’t forget to take advantage of the support groups, elder services agencies and that may be available in your area. You can find local resources for caregivers at and the Department of Health and Human Services' eldercare locator

For more tips, see our series of articles, “In the caregiver’s toolkit.”


* Source: National Family Caregiver Association