Preparing Patients to Be on Their Own
Reduce caregiver stress with the right preparation
by Cheryl Williams

It is common for caregivers to worry about their patients, especially if a person has been medically cleared to be on their own for certain periods of time. Wondering if a patient is all right when it is not a caregiver’s shift can be a source of stress and anxiety. However, there are a few ways to prepare patients to be alone to help ensure safety and reduce caregiver worry in-between shifts.

Preparing Patients to Be on Their Own

• Never leave the patient unattended unless they are healthy enough to be on their own for extended periods of time. Make sure the person feels comfortable being on their own.

• Check the person's safety awareness. Make sure they are able to recognize the signs of danger, such as the sounds of a fire alarm or a break-in, or the smell of smoke.

• Consider the person's capability should an emergency arise. Make sure the person is able to recognize strangers, that the person understands where the exits are and how to get outside if they need to, and whether they know where they live and how to get back inside afterward.

• Help connect them. Leave a mobile phone nearby to use in an emergency. Stock the phone with easy access to reliable contacts, such as family, friends, neighbors and emergency services. A personal emergency response (PERS) device may be helpful.

• Reduce the risk of falls by removing obstacles in frequented areas. Clear the paths to the restroom, bed and sitting room. Keep mobility devices, such as walkers or canes, within easy reach. Nightlights and automatic light sensors around the home can help the person see where they’re going if they need to get up in the night.

• Before leaving, ask if the person needs to use the restroom or needs help with tasks such as bathing or cleaning their home before leaving to try to minimize needs as much as possible in your absence. Keep the television remote within reach, and prepare a few meals and snacks so they don’t feel the need to cook or leave. Also, make sure the person has water or other favorite drinks available.

Remember: Health conditions can quickly change. Caregivers should monitor patients’ mobility and mental state to regularly assess their ability to independently care for themselves. Contact their doctor and family members if their health declines.

Organizing Patient Medications

On average, patients older than 65 take 14 to 18 prescription medicines a year. Multiple medications can be complicated to manage when it comes to remembering to take medicine on time, mixing up pills, overdosing or taking doses too close together. The side effects of medication mistakes can be fatal, so organization is crucial.

The first step toward getting organized involves collecting each prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication to develop a list of what the patient is taking. Discard any expired medicines, and check to see if medications have similar functions for the same area of the body. It’s also important to note possible medication interactions and side effects.

Then, organize medications in a clear container and keep them together. Store medications in an easy-to-access place. Make sure the person can easily reach them when needed. It’s also important to keep medications in cool, temperature-controlled areas so they don’t get too hot or cold.

Next, compile the person's pills for the week in a pill organizer, and take the time to make sure they understand how to take each pill. It can be helpful to write down the dose and instructions using large print. For example, write down which medications should be taken with food and at what time. Cut larger pills in half with a pill slicer so the person does not have to struggle with attempting to swallow them or splitting pills themselves. Placing medication in applesauce is another way to assist with difficult-to-take medications, so ensure that the patient is aware of this option for when a caregiver is not there to help.

To help a person remember to take their medications, set up a reminder system by creating a checklist and routine. For example, have the patient take their medications at the same time each day, and add a check by each medication’s name once they do. Some pillboxes have alarms to help remind patients to take their medication, and caregivers or family members can also set phone call reminders. Caregivers should monitor patients while on shift to make sure they don’t experience any adverse side effects with new medications. If the person experiences dizziness or confusion, contact the doctor immediately.

Plan ahead for refills to make sure the patient never runs out of a prescription. It can be helpful to have each medication filled at the same pharmacy to make refills easier to obtain. Medications can also be sent via mail order or delivered.

Managing Incontinence

When it comes to managing incontinence, keeping the homecare client dry, sanitary and comfortable helps prevent further complications and provides proper care. Make sure the person has properly-fitting adult pull-ups or briefs that effectively prevent leaks. Ensure enough supplies for daily use, and monitor incontinence products in case changes are needed. For example, a person may need a different style of protective underwear, something that’s more absorbent, or a different size for proper fit.

Remember that support and understanding are important in caring for someone with incontinence. Never react to accidents with anger or disappointment, or the patient may start hiding accidents, which may lead to poor health conditions and anxiety.

When the person needs to be changed or has an accident, let them know that everything is all right. It may be helpful to remind them how common incontinence is—more than 13 million Americans currently have the condition—then help them get cleaned up.

Simplify supplies for quicker and easier cleanups. For example, make sure the patient is in easy-to-remove clothes, and have clean clothes available for them to wear. Use bed pads to protect the bed linens and mattress, and other furniture. Use protective gloves, sanitary wipes and cleaner.

To help the person avoid accidents, practice timed voiding by asking if the person needs to use the restroom every two to three hours, instead of waiting for them to feel the urge. A good routine is having the person use the restroom before naps or bedtime and after meals.

Ensuring that the person has a healthy diet that is appropriate for their condition can help reduce stress on the bowels and potentially reduce incontinence symptoms. Light exercise or walking, if appropriate, can also help reduce symptoms. Ensure that the patient avoids common incontinence triggers, such as coffee or other caffeinated beverages, spicy foods and processed sugar.

Final Thought

Caregivers shouldn’t be stressed over leaving someone if the person is mentally and physically cleared to be on their own. With proper organization, caregivers can simplify the process of continued care to ensure the safety of patients, even when the shift is complete.