Caregiver Tools

Couldn’t find what you were looking for in our Need to Knows? We have compiled additional reference tools here to inform patients and caregivers on a variety of healthcare issues.

The following programs and organizations are designed to provide support to patients and caregivers on local and national levels.

Please note NICHE does not recommend and/or endorse any of the products, services, or content found on any third-party websites. See NICHE Terms and Conditions for details. 

Alcohol abuse or misuse in older adults can cause physical, mental and emotional problems, contributing to stroke, heart disease, depression, social isolation, stomach/intestine problems, fall risks and cirrhosis of the liver.

Alcohol Use Screening

The Short Michigan Alcoholism Screening Instrument – Geriatric Version (SMAST-G) identifies older adults with alcohol problems. Scores of two or more “yes” answers indicate an alcohol problem and the need for help.

1. When talking with others, do you ever underestimate how much you drink?
2. After a few drinks, have you sometimes not eaten or been able to skip a meal because you didn’t feel hungry?
3. Does having a few drinks help decrease your shakiness or tremors?
4. Does alcohol sometimes make it hard for you to remember parts of the day or night?
5. Do you usually take a drink to relax or calm your nerves?
6. Do you drink to take your mind off your problems?
7. Have you ever increased your drinking after experiencing a loss in your life?
8. Has a doctor or nurse ever said they were worried about your drinking?
9. Have you ever made rules to manage your drinking?
10. When you feel lonely, does having a drink help?




Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) units meet the special needs of older adult patients. ACE units differ in size and admission rules, but nurse-to-patient staffing ratios are typically better than other units.

ACE Unit Goals:

  • Maintain the patient’s pre-admission function level
  • Prevent and/or reduce falls, skin breakdown, delirium, functional decline, immobility and more.

ACE units share common themes:

  • Pride in care
  • Patient improvement
  • Reduction in hospital length of stay
  • Higher nurse to patient staffing ratios
  • Higher patient satisfaction than regular hospital floors

Hospital-type beds are designed to assist the older adult and others to get in and out of the bed easier than typical beds we find in a home. A family or an individual may determine for the safety or the care of an older adult that a hospital-type bed should be rented or purchased to replace the current bed. The nurse, case manager, or social worker assisting with discharge from a healthcare facility can recommend local resources for bed purchase or rental. Regular twin sheets or extra long twin sheets that are several inches longer (these sheets are readily available in many retail stores) fit hospital beds. The bed should be inspected on arrival and meet the following minimum standards:

  • Ability to automatically raise and lower 
  • Ability to automatically raise and lower the head and the foot of the bed independent of one another
  • The control for raising and lowering the bed should be in the side rails or a separate component on a cord accessible when in or out of the bed 
  • Side rails on both sides are easily raised and lowered in sections (upper left and right, lower left and right) that meet federal bed rail safety guidelines.
    • Side rails should lock in place (used for turning or moving)
    • Should NOT release the lock
    • Side rail locks should be easy to reach and open for a person giving care to the person in the bed
  • Have a plug that fits into a regular outlet
    • The plug should have no visible signs of damage (no frayed wires, loose connections to the bed, be tight/stay in the outlet without additional support) 

Consultation with the discharge planning team or the primary care provider is essential for selecting a bed that meets the needs of the individual for which it is intended.

Functional Decline is a worsening of physical and/or mental ability and can be a result of hospitalization, severe illness, extended bed-rest and reduced participation in daily activities.

There are many tools that healthcare providers use to measure the day-to-day functioning ability of their patients. These tools check functioning and performance of daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, toileting, medication use, shopping, and finances.

Below are a number of strategies used by hospitals to positively impact the function and quality of life in older adult patients:

  • Checking physical, psychological and functional status at admission
  • Encouraging activity during hospitalization such as exercise and rehabilitation therapies
  • Avoiding bed rest orders
  • Minimizing/avoiding use of physical restraints and use of mobility restricting devices such as indwelling catheters
  • Optimizing nutrition and hydration
  • Obtaining medication history
  • Starting early functional goal setting and discharge planning with patient and family
  • Implement picture systems to improve communication among all parties involved in the care and help patients with mental impairments to perform daily living activities independently

As people age, changes in hearing, vision, smell, touch, and taste may occur. Risk factors include growing older, exposure to frequent/excessive noise, and diseases. These changes can affect older adults’ quality of life and ability to interact with their family and friends and their surroundings.

Several common conditions affect hearing in older adults:

  • High-frequency hearing loss – hinders the ability to hear high pitched sound
  • Impacted ear wax – causes hearing loss, pain, and dizziness
  • Sensorineural deafness – causes sounds to seem too loud, problems following conversations, problems hearing in noisy areas, problems hearing women’s voices

Care strategies:

  • Assessment for and treatment of impacted earwax
  • Use of a pocket amplifier
  • Speaking to the older adult in a lower tone of voice to compensate for high-frequency hearing loss
  • Use of written instructions
  • Proper hearing aid care

Many of the conditions causing hearing loss are treatable. With treatment, older adults can experience optimal hearing, talk with their family and friends and stay safe in their surroundings.

Hearing changes: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Medications that are safe for younger persons aren’t necessarily safe for older adults. The Beer’s criteria provide guidance for physicians and pharmacists to prevent the use of potentially inappropriate medications in adults over 65 years of age.

Older adults should ask their healthcare provider if any of their medications are on the Beers list and, if so. request alternatives.


As people age, they need to maintain a careful diet that includes protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fruits and vegetables. Proper nutrition is essential in longevity, quality of life, and thinking ability. Older adults need 1200 mg of calcium a day, 1.5 to 2 servings of fruit, 2.5 cups of veggies, 6-7 ounces of whole-grain, and .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Sodium, cholesterol, and sugar should be limited.

According to the National Institute on Aging:

Women over 50…

  • Not active – need 1600 calories per day
  • Somewhat active – need 1800 calories per day
  • Very active – need 2000 calories per day

Men over 50…

  • Not active – need about 2000 calories per day
  • Somewhat active – need 2200 calories per day
  • Very active – need 2400 to 2800 calories per day

As age increases it is very important to have enough fiber in the diet to keep the bowels regular; lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes; improve skin health; aid in weight loss, and boost the immune system and overall health. Women over 50 need at least 21 grams of fiber a day and men need at least 30 grams.

As people age their metabolism slows, their digestion changes, their senses are dulled and they may take medications that change appetite and tastes. Loneliness and depression, death or divorce, and living on a limited budget can also affect diet.

Malnutrition is a serious health issue in older adults caused by eating too little food, taking in too few nutrients and having digestive problems related to aging. Malnutrition causes fatigue, depression, weakened immune system, anemia, weakness, as well as digestive, lung, heart and skin problems. Different difficulties older adults struggle with that can lead to malnutrition are a loss of appetite, difficulty chewing or dysphagia, dry mouth, an aversion to “healthy food,” and not being able to shop or cook their own food.

To prevent malnutrition older adults should:

  • Eat nutrient-packed foods such as avocados, sweet potatoes, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, eggs, and fish
  • Have flavorful foods available
  • Snack between meals
  • Eat with others as much as possible

Senior meal delivery plans such as “Meals on Wheels” are also options.



Often people think pain is just part of the natural process of aging, but there is an underlying problem with pain complaints and they should be taken seriously. People over the age of 65 often experience chronic pain from problems like arthritis, poor circulation, shingles, bowel diseases, or cancer.

Pain Medication Safety Issues and Risks

Some things to be aware of when taking pain medications:

  • Older adults handle pain medication differently than younger adults
  • How pain medication is administered to older adults can be a challenge
  • There are risks of side effects from all drugs, including over-the-counter analgesics
  • Precautions must be taken to ensure that all medicines are out of reach of children and that they are disposed of properly



Palliative care is a medical specialty focused on meeting the unique needs of patients who suffer from serious, chronic, life-threatening illnesses. Palliative care specialists provide expert treatment of symptom management such as pain, discomfort, and stress that can occur with a serious illness. A palliative care team consists of a doctor, nurse, and social worker specializing in palliative care. Teams may also include massage therapists, pharmacists, chaplains, and nutritionists. The palliative care team works with a patient’s physician and provides care along with whatever treatment the patient is already receiving (for instance, chemotherapy). Palliative care specialists are on call to answer any questions and concerns of patients and their families about treatment options, medical decisions, and care.

What Is Important?

  • Many patients need palliative care – As older adults live longer, many more people are living with serious and chronic illnesses and need relief from pain and symptoms to help maintain their quality of life. These illnesses can be complex and patients need help coordinating their care.
  • Palliative care works – Palliative care helps patients get the best possible care when suffering from severe illness. It is most effective in relieving pain and distressing symptoms, increasing patient and family satisfaction with their care and creating smooth transitions between hospitals and other healthcare settings.


How Does Palliative Care Help Patients and Their Families?

  • It makes patients feel better throughout illness by:
    – Vigorously treating pain and symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, depression, and anxiety
    – Keeping patients as comfortable, active and independent as possible
    – Benefitting patients at all stages of illness, while simultaneously receiving treatment or any other medical care
  • It helps patients and families to navigate the medical system by:
    – Assisting patients and families in making decisions about care and treatments, and then following through and ensuring that care is received
    – Providing answers, assistance, and emotional support to patients and families making difficult medical decisions
    – Identifying services to support patients after leaving the hospital


Palliative care links:

A pressure injury, commonly known as a bedsore, is damage to the skin and underlying soft tissue usually over a bony prominence (like a heel, ankle, hip, or tailbone) or related to a medical or other device(s). They occur because of intense and/or prolonged pressure or pressure in combination with shear.

Pressure injuries can cause pain, infection, immobility, poor outcomes, and prolonged recovery. Risk factors for pressure injuries include limited ability to move or position oneself, poor nutritional status, moisture from incontinence or sweating, impaired mental status, and lack of sensory perception.

LINK: National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel (NPIAP)

Color Perception

Throughout the aging process, the lens of the eye may become thicker and yellow. These changes may affect how one sees colors and the difference between the two colors. For instance, the color blue may appear darker and harder to tell apart from black. And it may become hard to tell where an object ends and its background begins, making it hard to see curbs or steps.

Color combinations that may confuse the eye are:

  • yellow/white
  • blue/green
  • dark blue/black
  • purple/dark red.

There is some evidence that black type on yellow paper may be easier to read if the color perception is an issue.

Pressure Injuries 

A pressure injury, commonly known as bedsore, is an area of skin that breaks down when you stay in one position for too long without shifting your position. It can also be caused by friction, which can cause pain, infection, loss of mobility and poor recovery. It most often develops on parts of the skin that cover bony areas of the body, like heels, ankles, hips, and tailbone. Patients with a medical condition that limits their mobility and confines them to a wheelchair or bed for long periods of time are at high risk for developing pressure ulcers.


Sleep problems include excessive sleepiness, difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleep apnea, insomnia and restless leg syndrome. As you age, medical conditions and medications may cause sleep problems.

Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index

The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index measures the quality and patterns of one’s sleep and addresses the following topics:

  • Sleep quality
  • Time it takes to fall asleep
  • Sleep duration
  • Total sleep time vs. time in bed
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Use of sleep medication
  • Daytime problems related to nighttime sleep