BJC and Saint Luke’s Officially Combine as BJC Health System

Caregiving: Tips and resources that can empower you on your loved one's health journey

Every day for the next five years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65, and by 2030, 18 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older according to the Pew Research Center. While old age certainly doesn’t begin at 65, it’s not unreasonable to think as we age, we may need help from loved ones. Millions of Americans already act as caregivers each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 20 percent of U.S. adults reported providing care or assistance to family members or friends in the past 30 days — one in four women and one in five men.


Caregiving is often a labor of love. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that there’s a universal operating manual for the role. That said, it’s essential to be informed when caring for a loved one, especially if they have specific medical needs. Here are some need-to-knows that can empower you in providing care. 


What does caregiving entail?

Caring for an adult relative may include everyday tasks such as driving them to buy groceries, cooking their dinner or doing their laundry.

It could also include more complex tasks, such as: 

  • Mobility assistance around the home and to appointments

  • Providing help using the bathroom or bathing 

  • Managing appointments and medicine reminders

  • Administering medication

  • Communicating with doctors 

  • Helping file paperwork such as medical records and financial documents

  • Overseeing at-home care, following doctor’s instructions and plans

  • Doing research on managing various conditions

Other caregiving duties are more emotional than logistical, such as providing companionship or helping navigate emotions that may accompany changing health status and independence. 

Older adults are some of the most vulnerable populations for experiencing loneliness. Loneliness is a growing epidemic; in 2023, the WHO declared loneliness a global health concern

To engage an older adult in your life, you might try: 

  • Helping them pursue their interests and hobbies

  • Connecting them with a class at Oasis where they can learn with peers

  • Engaging in a meaningful activity together, even if it’s watching television, listening to music or doing something physical such as taking a walk


Figuring out your loved one’s health insurance

Many people who retire at 65 may no longer have work-provided health insurance and may need another kind of health care coverage. This is where Medicare and Medicaid can help. 

Understanding Medicare

Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people who are over the age of 65, and taking advantage of Medicare can help your older loved one with the cost of medical expenses. 

Some Medicare recipients receive the coverage automatically, depending on whether they draw retirement or disability benefits from Social Security before the age of 65. You may also need to sign up for Medicare. 

Those eligible can enroll in Medicare on the Medicare.gov website. Once approved, you can select how to receive coverage.


Navigating Medicaid

It’s important for caregivers to understand the ins and outs of Medicaid. Medicaid helps low-income seniors afford health insurance, which they will need if they don’t have workplace-provided coverage. Medicaid is one of the largest payers for health care in the United States; according to Medicaid.gov, 81.4 million people in the U.S. receive health coverage through Medicaid. 

Medicaid is administered by individual states, and Missouri’s Medicaid program is called MO HealthNet. The Missouri Department of Mental Health outlines the different types of Medicaid available.

While navigating Medicaid for your older relative may feel like a complex process, it doesn’t have to be. Reach out to the Missouri Department of Social Services to connect with someone who can support you and answer your questions. 


Tools that can help along your loved one’s health journey 

Logging into MyChart

Caregiving for an older relative or loved one likely involves helping them get to their doctor’s appointments. MyChart is an online portal (you can sign up for it here) that enables patients to access their medical records, appointment reminders and direct communication with their provider and care team. MyChart is a one-stop shop for health-related needs and allows a patient (or their caregiver) to access all their medical information in one place. You can use MyChart to:

  • Access lab results and medical records

  • Communicate with your medical team

  • Request prescription refills

  • Manage billing 

If you’re a caregiver, you’ll need to request MyChart proxy access for your loved one.


Helping with medications

As a caregiver, it’s important to be informed and diligent when giving prescription medication to a loved one. At doctor’s appointments, take notes, and ask critical questions about any prescribed medication. As a caregiver, you are an important advocate for your loved one’s health journey. 

For any prescription drugs, please consider asking their health care provider these suggested medication-related questions

  • Why is this medication being prescribed? 

  • How does the medication work? 

  • What are some of its side effects and what problems might my loved one experience while on this medication? 

  • Is there a timeframe in which current symptoms should improve after beginning this medication? 

  • How long is the medication needed/when will a refill be needed? 

  • How does this drug interact with existing prescribed medications? 

  • Should the medicine be taken with food? 

  • Is it safe to drink alcohol while on this medication? 

  • Do you have any written information about this medication that we can take home? 

  • What’s the cost of the medication?

  • Is there a less expensive alternative prescription, such as a generic? 


Having an advance care plan conversation

Advance care planning refers to preparing for important health care-related decisions that may arise for your older relative when they become ill or incapacitated and cannot communicate their wishes. 

While perhaps uncomfortable and emotional, having these advance care planning discussions sooner rather than later is a great idea not only to honor your loved one and their preferences, but to be adequately prepared for the future so the process is easier for you and your loved one. It’s advisable to document your loved one’s wishes in writing in an advance directive (a legal document indicating their wishes).   

Medicare.gov says you can get an advance directive from these sources: 

  • An attorney

  • A health care provider

  • Your state health department

  • Your local area agency on aging (Resources in Missouri and Illinois)  


Understanding palliative care at home or in hospitals 

Palliative care is a specialized type of medical care. It’s a helpful resource for people diagnosed with a serious illness or disease, such as cancer, Parkinson’s Disease or dementia. 

This type of care is given along with standard medical treatment and is intended to enhance quality of life. If you want to pursue this type of care, the National Institute on Aging recommends connecting with a palliative care provider shortly after the diagnosis. 

Palliative care typically involves a team of professionals including doctors, nurses, social workers and sometimes chaplains. This team works with the individual’s primary doctors and provides a range of support, from medical to emotional. 

Palliative care can be administered at home, in nursing homes, specialized clinics and hospitals. Some insurers and some Medicare and Medicaid plans cover palliative care. If you’re a U.S. veteran, you may be eligible for this type of care free of charge. 


Preventing caregiver burnout 

As the classic example goes, put on your own oxygen mask first. It’s important to take care of yourself before your caregiving duties so you can show up healthy, rested and empowered to care for someone else. 

Heavy caregiving duties coupled with a full-time job and other obligations can lead to burnout. Signs of burnout can include irritability, intestinal issues, changes in appetite or sleep, headaches, exhaustion, insomnia, fatigue, feeling isolated or depressed, anxiety and frequent illness. 

Avoiding burnout may look like: 

  • Saying “no” to things and maintaining strong boundaries around your time and energy.

  • Putting your health and wellness first. 

  • Getting adequate sleep, proper water intake, eating nutritious foods and moving your body daily. 

  • Recognizing when your energy or health is dipping and resetting so you can prioritize your wellness. 

  • Taking time for activities, hobbies and connections that bring you joy. 

Being a caregiver for an older relative or loved one comes with a lot to navigate. And keeping yourself informed about things like Medicare, Medicaid and more –– while also preserving your own wellness and prioritizing your health –– is an exercise in balance, boundaries and bravery. 


Read more wellness content from BJC.

Sign up for our newsletter and take charge of your whole health.

Stay ahead of the curve with exclusive content from BJC's health care professionals, delivered right to your inbox.