Caregiving Basics: Step One – Assess The Situation

First of a Four-Part Series on a Basic Approach to Caregiving

by Kim Keller

The responsibility for caregiving a parent or loved one can be overwhelming. A question we are often asked is: “Where do I begin?”

We know from our own experience that staying organized, sharing responsibilities wherever and whenever you can, and keeping the lines of communication open with everyone involved are all critical caregiving fundamentals.

But the very first step is to assess the situation.

Try to get an accurate picture of your parent or loved one’s ability to care for themselves. Before you can seek help, you must understand what’s needed.

Clearly, every situation is different. Some people will have one parent or loved one with health issues; some people may have two. So, for the sake of simple communication, any references we make to “parent” or “parents” should be taken to mean either or both, or any other loved one you may be looking after.

Here are the questions that will help get you started. They will assist you in determining your parent’s essential state of well-being, or lack thereof. Until you have a clear assessment of your parent’s health and living situation, you cannot begin to formulate a support plan.

  • Determine the mental state of your parents. Are they cogent? Are there any problems with communication or comprehension? If their behavior is delusional or their speech is disconnected, seek professional help right away.
  • Are your parents eating regularly? Are they losing weight? Who is preparing their meals? Check the refrigerator – is it empty or full? What kind of food is in there? Is it fresh or no longer edible?
  • Are your parents taking their medications?
  • Are they wearing clean clothes?
  • Does the house or apartment look like it’s being kept up? Is it clean? Is there evidence of regular maintenance?
  • Can your parents bathe and dress without assistance?
  • Are they incontinent?
  • Are the bills being paid? Check for piles of unopened mail.
  • Can your parents get around? Can they drive? Can they walk?
  • Are they safe living in their current living situation? If you suspect a problem, check for any bruising or stray burn marks on their clothing, or any evidence that might indicate carelessness or dangerous behavior.
  • What help are they able to afford? What kind of health insurance do they have? Do they have long-term care insurance? What does it cover?

This is the way to begin. If something doesn’t seem right, then trust your gut and add it to your assessment checklist. We know how gigantic the task ahead may appear, but if you break it down into smaller pieces, using the questions above, you will get a good handle on exactly what kind of help your parents may need.

On Thursday, In Care of Dad will present Step Two of The Caregiving Basics  — what to do after you’ve assessed the situation.


Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.  

7 Responses to “Caregiving Basics: Step One – Assess The Situation”

  1. Cassandra says:

    I’m glad I found your blog! I started blogging about my journey with my mom (who has dementia) and have been looking for other bloggers. It helps to be a part of a community who understands what you are going through!