15 Serious Caregiving Mistakes You Are Probably Making

caregiver mistakes to avoid

All caregivers are destined to make a few mistakes along the way. And that is okay. Mistakes are how we learn, grow, and evolve. 

But if a mistake (or two) could potentially harm your loved one, you would want to know about it, right? After questioning a few medical professionals and care providers, I compiled this list of common (and serious) mistakes that caregivers often make when caring for the elderly. 

And don't worry, its highly unlikely that you have made all of these:  

1. Giving Medication Incorrectly

Prescription medication is tricky. Are you certain they are being taken correctly? It isn't always as easy as counting out morning and evening medication. 

Be certain you know which pills should be taken with food, and which on an empty stomach. Make sure all medication is stored correctly (not in the kitchen or bathroom.), and that you don't crush or cut any pills without first okaying it with a doctor or pharmacist. 

2. Trusting Medical Professionals Too Easily

When was the last time you asked for a second opinion? How often do you check that your doctor is really paying attention? 

Have you dropped by the nursing home or assisted living facility at odd hours to make sure things are really peachy? 

There is a big difference between finding professionals you can trust, and trusting whichever professionals you find. It pays to be vigilant.  

3. Denying the Signs

The first mistake of caregiving can happen before you even become a caregiver. Denying, ignoring, or excusing abnormal signs, symptoms and behaviors in the elderly can take a huge toll on their health and safety.  

Yes, you want to pretend that mom or dad will be healthy forever. But pretending won't eliminate the fact that they may need more supervision. 

Pretending that nothing is wrong, or making excuses (she must be tired, or he must have just been distracted) can delay important health treatments. 

The longer you delay, the more likely that certain issues can escalate, become irreversible, or lead to serious injury. 

4. Believing the Elderly

If you are a long-distance caregiver, or visit infrequently, then you could be missing a lot of warning signs. Over the phone, your loved one says everything is fine

What they may NOT be saying is that they are struggling to pay bills they can no longer understand, or that they are falling a lot. As they feel their independence slipping away, they may fiercely deny that anything is wrong. 

Maybe they don't want to worry you, or become a burden. Maybe they don't realize they are no longer okay. It pays to check in for yourself every now and then. 

5. Not Asking The "Depressing" Questions Early

When should you have "the talk" with your loved ones? Right now. Better yet, yesterday. 

Asking sensitive questions about what a person wants as far as long-term care, end of life care, funeral arrangements, etc, may seem macabre. But if you don't know your loved one's wishes now, you may be left guessing later on. 

Along with those depressing questions comes the reality of cold, sterile paperwork. You may feel like a heartless beast asking about wills, trusts, assets, insurance policies, DNR's, POA's and such, but now is always the best time to plug any holes in the legal work. 

Getting the bad stuff done sooner lets you have more time to relax and enjoy your loved one's final years later. 

6.  Not Trusting Your Gut Instinct

Does it just feel wrong? (Or right?) If you get that nagging feeling, then you shouldn't brush it aside. In fact, not listening to your intuition could be one of the worst mistakes you can make as a caregiver. 

7. Not Thinking About Death

Even people who carefully plan for death financially may remain emotionally detached from the inevitable. You don't need to dwell on death, but thinking about it is part of preparing yourself. 

8. Not Carrying Important Information at All Times

Every caregiver should carry a list of medications used by their loved one, along with their SSN, birthdate, and primary physician's phone number. 

At the most, a mini-version of your loved one's medical history, especially if you are traveling a long distance from their primary care provider. 

Although this information is accessible, the time it takes to network between doctors and hospitals can cost precious minutes in an emergency. 

9. Doing More Than is Necessary

Sometimes caregivers jump into their role with too much enthusiasm. When they decide to do everything for their loved one, it can lead to stress for everyone. 

The elderly need (and sometimes demand) to retain as much independence as possible. That means, that while you might cook a meal for your parent, you shouldn't spoon-feed it to them if they can do it themselves. 

Taking over too many unnecessary roles early on can lead you on the fast track to caregiver burnout. When your loved one really does need that level of help, you may be too tired, to ill, or too emotionally detached to provide it anymore. 

10. Not Accepting Help

On the other hand, when the elderly require a greater level of care, it is important for caregivers to enlist as much help as possible. You may still be enthusiastic about your duties, but you will get overly-stressed if you don't get a break and some time to take care of you. 

Even if you are handling it just fine right now, you still need a network of people you can depend on if you do need help. 

11. Not Investing in the Proper Equipment

Don't put off purchasing any piece of equipment that can improve your loved one's quality of life. (He has only fallen twice, I think we can wait a bit on those safety rails.) Don't put off buying something that can make your job easier. 

There is a reason why medical facilities all use standard equipment; it makes caregiving easier and safer for everyone. What good are you to your elderly loved one if you suffer a back injury? Why insist on keeping their "favorite" chair when a mechanical chair would allow them to stand without assistance? 

12. Not Doing Routine Skin Checks

A quick assessment of an elder's skin can reveal much about their health, including circulatory problems, dehydration, and skin cancers. 

Very thin, fragile skin can tear easily, and these wounds need to be treated to prevent scarring and infections. If your loved one is mostly sedentary and/or incontinent, then you need to know how to watch for and prevent pressure ulcers. 

Not sure what to look for? Ask a doctor to explain, or have a nurse print you out some information. Or, you can search for skin assessment tutorials and videos if you need more information and examples. (you can find these on educational sites for nurses.) 

13. Ignoring Fluid Intake

Dehydration is prevalent in the elderly, and can mimic other issues (including dementia). You may feel that eating and drinking are basic instincts, but the elderly can often forget or underestimate the amount of food/fluids they are taking in per day. 

As a caregiver, you have to be vigilant, and learn to detect signs of dehydration early, so that it can be remedied before it causes severe health issues. 

14. Not Removing Privileges Soon Enough to Prevent Injury

Do you suspect that your aging parent needs their keys taken away? (Maybe a few too many fender-benders in a short amount of time?) 

Or have they consistently forgotten food on the stove many more times than normal? Finding lots of dropped pills, unpaid bills, or bruised knees? 

No one wants to confront a loved one about these issues, but the truth is it may be no longer safe for your elder to drive, cook, handle their own medications, handle their own budget, etc. 

15. Assuming Others Will Help 

You've heard the saying "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself"? This can apply to aspects of caregiving too. If you don't live near your loved one, do you assume that someone will see to their needs or contact you if an emergency happens? 

It is easy to feel this way, and it isn't negligence. You may feel your aging parent, grandparent or friend is fine living on their own. 

They have good neighbors, or they have a social circle. Maybe they have relatives who live closer than you. Surely, someone will always be willing and able to step in, right? 

Maybe. But can you be certain? 

That doesn't mean you have to pack up and move closer to mom or dad. But at least set up a reliable network of people who can and will check in on your loved one. Many people may be willing, but probably don't feel it is their place, unless they are asked. 

Don't suppose that a sibling or other relative will automatically step in and help physically or financially. The responsibility of caregiving, unfortunately, usually falls on the shoulders of one person. 

Always plan as though you are that only person, and be more than grateful if you are not.

Caregiver Mistakes Can Be Fixed!

If you are making any of these mistakes, its okay! You can address these issues immediately, and everything will be fine. Seek any help you need, don't be afraid to ask questions. 

Above all, don't feel guilty! Just implement a few changes and everyone can be safer, happier, and healthier. 

You are still awesome.