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Posted: February 29, 2008

A Caregiver’s Spring Cleaning Checklist

Since we’re barreling forward into spring, it seems like a good time to conduct a little caregiver spring cleaning for our loved ones. Here's a short list of simple things you can do to get started. Individually none will take much time -- do a little now, and a little later. With this approach, you should be much more in control by the time spring officially arrives -- and it will be a small matter to keep it up.

1. Clean out the medicine cabinet. Toss everything with an old expiration date. Don't pour medications down the toilet or the sink; this can just pollute our water supply. Pour vinegar into the bottle or vial, tape it up, wrap it up, and put it in the trash. (I know, I know ... this puts it into the landfill. At least it's sealed, and the vinegar should make it unpalatable to anyone or anything that comes across it.) If you have unexpired medications that you or your loved one aren't taking any longer, check with the doctor about whether you should keep it "just in case." If there's a chance you'll need it before it's expired, you don't want to have to buy it again.

2. If you haven't already, start keeping copies of all medical records. If you or your loved one has a test done (even basic lab work) ask for a copy of the report as soon as it's available and put it in your file. If you ever see a new doctor, or someone has a question about your medical history, you won't have to waste time trying to get the information.

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3. For the same reason, keep records about all the medications you and your loved ones are taking. Record what did -- and what didn't -- work, any reactions or side effects you noted, the date you discussed any concerns with the prescribing doctor, and what the doctor said.

4. Make sure your loved one’s primary care physician and most-involved family members have a copy of your elderly’s Advanced Directive. An Advanced Directive instructs what kind of care is wanted in the event of terminal illness and someone can't speak for them self. Advanced Directives discuss care and are not simply "pull the plug" documents. They record medical wishes in black and white.

5. Make note of where all important documents and records are kept. If they're scattered all around, get them organized in a logical and fireproof place. If there is an emergency, you won't want to spend days or weeks locating or getting replacements for important documents and records.

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Molly Shomer is a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. She is a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues and the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached at molly@eldercareteam.com.

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