Sudden Caretaker For An Incapacitated Relative? What Should You Do?

If your parent, spouse, or other close relative has recently suffered a medical setback that has left them incapacitated, you may be facing the sudden and unexpected task of caring for them in your own home. Although there are resources available to assist you, navigating the complex world of skilled nursing care can be exhausting. Read on to learn more about how you can receive assistance in caring for your relative, as well as what you can do to make your home more accommodating in the meantime.

Why should your relative receive skilled nursing care?

Once a patient has been admitted to the hospital, he or she cannot legally be discharged until hospital staff can be assured that the patient has a safe, capable place to stay. In many cases, hospital staff will first check to see if an adult child or other close family member can care for the patient at home. If not, the patient must be discharged to a nursing home or other skilled rehabilitation facility. The patient will not be discharged until a home with adequate resources or a skilled nursing facility can be identified.

How can your relative pay for skilled nursing care?

If your relative is over age 65, he or she should be able to receive up to 100 days of skilled nursing care in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) for free or low cost under the Medicare plan. This coverage is available only if your relative has spent at least 3 days inpatient at a hospital (time spent under observation or in the emergency room doesn't count toward these 3 days).

If your relative is under age 65 and his or her insurance doesn't cover this skilled nursing care, you may instead need to care for your relative in the privacy of your own home. In many cases, your relative's primary health insurance can help pay for respite care (to cover you when you need to run errands or just take a break) or several visits per day from a home health nurse. However, unless you already live in a 55+ community, you'll likely need to make a few minor modifications to your home to help both you and your relative be more safe and comfortable.

What can you do to make your home more accommodating for your relative?

Depending upon your relative's mobility level and cognitive ability, he or she may need only a few minor modifications or some major assistive devices. Below are some of the items you can have installed (or install yourself) for a relatively low cost.

Balance bars and railings

Perhaps the biggest risk for those who have limited mobility is an unexpected fall. Not only can a fall cause severe injury -- even broken bones -- but may also affect cognition and even self-esteem. Installing bars and supports for additional assistance during risky times (such as getting in and out of the bathtub or onto the toilet) can help prevent falls. You should be able to purchase these supports at a hardware or home supply store.

Motorized stair lifts

If your time as caregiver looks to be long-term and your home has two or more stories, you may want to investigate the installation of a motorized stair lift from a site like, to allow your relative to easily transition between floors of your home. These lifts install on your existing stairs and can safely move your relative up and down each story. You'll want to be sure to install railings or have canes or walkers easily accessible on both floors so that your relative can get from place to place safely.