Strategies for Getting (and Staying) Organized While Caregiving


Caring for a vulnerable person can be rewarding as well as frustrating. It can increase our self-esteem to know that we are helping someone in need, while at the same time it can burden us with guilt because we know we aren't perfect caregivers (no one is).

Caregiving is a continual learning process and no two situations are identical, but becoming as organized as possible and making an effort to stay that way can help relieve stress.

Each person's organization process is unique—what is orderly for one person may be a mess for someone else; what seems obsessively organized to you may appear simply tidy to a friend.

Regardless of those differences, sometimes a move toward change can be helpful. Below are some tips that may help you organize your life as a caregiver.

Organizing for an ordinary day

Most of us have typical daily routines we carry out with our loved ones even when we know that we must be alert for potential emergencies. Some thoughts about routine organization could include:

  • Setting up medications: Most people use some type of container with medications arranged by day and/or time of day. This is easy. What I find not so easy is coping with the timing of insurance companies and a care receiver's need for medication. Ideally, there should be at least a week of reserve medication in case illness, weather or some other issue keeps you from picking up your loved one's prescription. I prefer a simple calendar for this task, but there are electronic calendars and other reminders available as well.
  • Enhancements to the daily routine: A friend of mine saw the covered plates that some hospitals use to keep meals warm and inquired as to how to purchase one. Both the hospital and a manufacturer of these items gave him samples. While this may seem like a small concern, being able to keep food warm for a slow eater is a very nice perk. Other small but useful products can help make days more enjoyable. As a blogger on elder care, nearly every day I receive several messages about newly developed items. One of the best I've seen is a two handled mug. The mugs offer great stability and more independence for the elder. Being open to newly developed products can make a difference in daily care. Internet searches on products for elderly people can be informative and often rewarding.
  • Being ready to handle an emergency is part of daily living: That may mean keeping snow cleared from your driveway and having warm clothes handy for you and your loved one. It could also mean keeping a bag packed with medications and supplies for a care receiver during a time when natural disasters are most likely to occur. Think about your loved one's needs ahead of time and plan for possible emergencies.
  • Keep a written journal of a care receiver's current needs: This shouldn't take a lot of time if done daily and it could save you time in an emergency. It could also make it far easier to transfer care for your loved one to someone else should you suddenly not be able to provide their care.
  • A second journal for yourself: Journaling can relieve frustration, clarify thoughts and simply keep track of how your life is going. You may want to treat yourself to a handsome journal of some kind. It needn't be expensive but something nice may encourage you to write. Conversely, you could dedicate a folder in your computer for this if you prefer typing.Journaling is one way to help you decide if you are reaching the time when you need more help with caregiving or you may use it to simply track your own moods.
  • A dedicated calendar: A calendar specifically for keeping track of appointments, entertainment and other engagements concerning your loved one can be helpful. Some people may find this method cumbersome, while others prefer to have everything in one place. It's all about what works best for you.
  • Reduce clutter: Yes, I know that seems impossible when we look at the medical paperwork that stuffs our mailboxes and all the extra equipment our loved ones need. However, some type of organization early on can save frustration in the event of an emergency, during tax time or simply when making a call to the physician's office. You don't need a sophisticated system – just one that makes sense to you.
  • Allow for diminishing capacity of your care receiver: In elder care, a care receiver isn't likely to get well. Therefore, it serves everyone involved when we, as caregivers, anticipate future needs. This may mean checking out care facilities, even if you never intend to use one. Knowing the good adult day care facilities, the ideal in-home care agencies and the best assisted living and nursing homes in your community is essential knowledge for a lone caregiver to have.
  • Find a way to do something you enjoy: You may be homebound with your elder or you may go out to help provide care for him or her. Either way, you should be able to listen to music you enjoy, read a book or spend time on the computer with a support group, at a minimum. You also deserve to see friends and enjoy some "me time."I'm aware that this sounds idealistic to many, but some self-care is a must to preserve your ability to provide care for others.

Organizing for a potential emergency

  • Back up relief: You may or may not have anyone who can relieve you on a regular basis, but you definitely need to have backup help for emergencies. Whether that means that you complete paperwork ahead of time with an in-home care agency and perhaps use their services a few hours a month to stay on their radar, or you have a neighbor you can call, you need someone who can take over for you if you become temporarily incapacitated.
  • Stay prepared for the most likely emergency: Seizures? Frequent falling? Diabetic issues? Do your best, of course, to prevent these emergencies, but also try to be prepared for whatever you must do until you receive professional assistance.
  • Keep an information folder in an obvious place: This folder should have resource phone numbers such as your care receiver's doctor, the clinic's off-hours nurse number and prescription names and dosages along with the pharmacy number. You'll also want to list names of emergency family and friend contacts, copies of insurance and other medical cards, and a list of allergies and other essential information for yourself and/or emergency personnel. A copy of the Power Of Attorney for health care is a must, as well. Also, try to keep that daily journal with the folder so that up-to-date information is handy.

As with most suggestions I've made through my years of writing articles, I'm simply telling readers what's worked for me. I hope that some of these suggestions will give you food for thought so that you can organize or simplify your caregiving life. Try out the ideas that appeal to you and if you have additional tips that you find helpful please let us know.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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Suggestion . . . I am handicapped. Use walker. I wear smocks with pockets. Carry mugs with caps in pockets to free up both hands. Put food items in sandwich bags and carry in pockets. Carry wireless phone in pocket. Uses are limitless. A great help to me.
I wear small flat bag, hangs from neck with medical, social security, ID cards, glasses, handicap parking placard and small amount of money for co-pay.
A few of the things I've found that really work for me… re meds: I use CVS because they have an online presence that I can access from my smartphone… I can order refills for Mom just by clicking a couple of boxes; easy to set up and use account; also I use a combined view that lets me order my meds at the same time; CVS also has an auto-fill process so that you don't have to do the routine med ordering; my CVS also delivers (wonderful on a really cold winter day); when my order is ready for pick up, I get a text message (eliminates me having to call to find out if rx is ready)… when I set up Mom's meds into the little strip of daily boxes, I count out loud to make sure I am putting those little pills in the right box because Mom likes to sit with me while I am setting up her meds and hearing me counting reminds her not to talk to me at that moment, otherwise her chatter could distract me and I could make a med error… when we visit the doctor, I make sure her med list is accurate in the dr's computer and after we are done, I get extra copies of the after visit summary (AVS); I keep one copy on her walker basket for quick access if I am not with her (for example, at day care); I also keep a copy of the summary in my purse for all kinds of questions… re notes to her dr, I find it more productive to use the mychart app; it is a way of secure messaging her dr about non-emergent issues; some of the issues I've emailed Mom's dr about: med changes made by other drs, blood pressure or blood sugar readings for several days when we are adjusting meds, and requests for referrals to other specialities; I can email any of her providers anytime I have a few minutes to myself and not have to worry about whether or not her nurse got down everything I wanted the dr to know… re connection with Mom's home care nurse and home care aide, these people can eithet call me or text me to set up arrival times, etc, but I prefer text messaging because it's in writing and that means it is one less thing for me to remember… re important paperwork, I have a small accordian file that I carry in my purse; copies of the AVS, the POA, advance directive and POLST orders;… these are a few of the things that are working for me, of course the rest of my life is a mess, LOL… hope a bit of this helps someone, good luck!
Rigjt now my Dad is still capable of handling all the prescription med details. But this information has prompted me to put a plan in place for me to become versed in all the prescribed meds and the when and how to reorder. I am the live in stay at home professional son/caregiver for mom & pops. The One thing I'm not in charge of thus far is the prescribed med side of things,so thank you for the encouragement and advice.