Caregiving: What You Know and Don’t Know

As caregivers, we encounter a whole range of professionals and volunteers while fulfilling our caregiving responsibilities. If you are anything like my brother and me, some of your encounters cause you to wonder, “Does anyone appreciate what it takes to do this?”

Here’s something that might ease your stress a little. In 2015, the American College of Physicians released a paper stating, “Family caregivers play a major role in maximizing the health and quality of life of more than 30 million individuals with acute and chronic illness. Patients depend on family caregivers for assistance with daily activities, managing complex care, navigating the healthcare system and communicating with healthcare professionals.”

However, being recognized, and actually fulfilling the responsibilities of, “assistance with daily activities, managing complex care, navigating the healthcare system and communicating with health care professionals,” are two very different things.

One relatively simple issue connects all caregiver responsibilities and execution—getting it all done. The issue is memory.

How much do you remember about the fire hose blast of information all those professionals and volunteers provide? According to The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, not much. Their researchers found that 40-80 percent of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately.

Think about that for a moment: 40-80 percent of the information about how to care for our loved one literally goes in one ear and out the other. A few years ago, I had heard that we forget half of what doctors say before we ever walk out of their offices. The findings in the JRSM are even worse.

The researchers also discovered three areas of concern about memory:

Our memory is worse if we are older and anxious (anxious? Well, duh).

We focus on information about the diagnosis and not on the treatment instructions. We should ask for simple information in specific categories.

Most of the information is conveyed verbally, but we remember more effectively if the spoken instructions are accompanied by written or visual information.

Believe it or not, there is a simple, easy way to do a much better job of remembering the information that is crucial to doing a good job as a family caregiver. The key is the Question Corner.

Whenever you visit a professional or anyone providing services, always have something to write with and something to write on. A notebook is one of the best investments you can make as a caregiver.

In the upper left-hand corner of a page, write seven simple questions. You are writing them in the upper left-hand corner because we, in the Western world, read left to right. So, the questions are the first thing you see on the page. The questions are: What? Why? Who? Where? When? How? and How Much?

That’s the Question Corner. Neuroscience shows us that simply writing the questions and seeing them as we listen causes our brains to retain more, and we are prompted to ask better questions. You’ll have your notes to help you remember, and you may even ask the professional to jot a few comments or notes for you.

Here are ways the questions can be useful:

What? What, specifically, do I need to be doing? What are the implications of not taking the medication? What do I do if X happens?

Why? Why is my loved one taking this medication, doing this therapy or acting like this?

Who? Who do I contact in case of an emergency? Who can help us with ______?

Where? Where do I go to find this sort of product or help? Where are we in the journey of my loved one’s condition? Where are we in the decision-making process?

When? When is our next appointment? When do I give this medication?

How? How do I administer this medication? How do I move my loved one so he or she is more comfortable? How do we file these documents?

How Much? How much will certain types of assistance cost? How much time will certain processes take? How much time can I be away before he or she gets anxious?

You can come up with additional questions as well. The key benefit to creating the Question Corner is that it is an outstanding tool for remembering crucial information. Get in the habit of jotting down the questions and you will see your memory improve.

Collins is the producer of the video, “Care for the Caregiver,” winner of a National Caregiver Friendly Award from Today’s Caregiver Magazine. For ways to deal with the craziness of caregiving, visit

©2017 Mike Collins

Caregiving: What You Know and Don’t Know was last modified: June 21st, 2023 by Ashley Culbreth