Your elderly family member or friend’s vital signs allow you to evaluate their overall health and immediately identify any underlying problems that need to be addressed.

Therefore, it is critical for a CDPAP caregiver to know how to accurately measure, read, and interpret a patient’s vital signs.

What are vital signs?

Simply put, vital signs measure the basic functions of your body. A patient’s vitals can tell you whether or not they have a serious problem that requires urgent medical attention. Each vital sign assesses the performance of a body part and function.

The Four Main Vital Signs

As a CDPAP caregiver, you want to measure the four main vital signs when you evaluate your elderly friend or loved one’s health. 

The four main vital signs are:

  • Body temperature
  • Pulse rate
  • Respiration rate (or the rate of breathing)
  • Blood pressure

It is important to note that blood pressure isn’t a vital sign. Nonetheless, you should still measure it alongside the other three because a patient’s blood pressure says a lot about their heart’s health and can give you early signs of a potential heart attack.

Each vital sign is measured differently. To get accurate readings about your patient’s condition, you want to make sure that you understand and record every vital sign the right way.

What is body temperature?

A healthy person’s body temperature ranges between 97.8 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit (or from 36.5 to 37.2 Celsius). If your patient’s body temperature falls out of this normal range, they may have a fever (when their body is too hot) or hypothermia (which happens when their temperature is below 97.8 degrees Fahrenheit).  

You can take someone’s temperature in many ways. Below are some of the most common ones.


In short, all you need to do to measure a patient’s body temperature by mouth is place the thermometer under their tongue. Once it beeps, remove the thermometer and read their temperature.

If you’re using an old-school thermometer (and not a digital one), you want to wait for a few minutes before taking it out of the patient’s mouth. The exact amount of time is typically highlighted when you review the instructions that came with the thermometer.

Before you take a loved one’s temperature, you should confirm with them that they didn’t eat or drink anything for at least thirty minutes. Otherwise, cold or hot drinks may influence the thermometer’s oral reading and give you a faulty body temperature.


A rectal thermometer takes a person’s temperature through their rectum. There are two main advantages to using this type.

Firstly, it is more precise than an oral thermometer. This is because a rectal reading isn’t impacted by the hotness or coolness of what your loved one ate and/or drank.

Secondly, oral thermometers may not be suitable for everyone. Some elderly patients, for example, may have a disability that makes it difficult for them to keep a thermometer in their mouth for a long time.

Similarly, a patient who must regularly drink fluids due to a medical condition might not be able to wait thirty minutes without having water or juice. As a result, an oral thermometer may not accurately measure their body temperature, particularly in comparison to a rectal one.


Another option is to take someone’s temperature with an axillary thermometer, which you put directly below their armpit (and under their clothing) until you get a reading.

It should be noted that axillary thermometers are less exact than the oral and rectal types.


While measuring a patient’s temperature through their rectum is still the most precise method, an ear thermometer, when applied the right way, can be very reliable.

The main advantage of ear thermometers is that they are less intrusive, more comfortable, and easier to use than the oral, rectal, and axillary alternatives.

You must be mindful, however, of certain factors that may impact the ear’s temperature reading. Among them are how the person’s body is positioned, ear wax, and whether or not the patient laid on their ear before you took their temperature.


Temporal artery thermometers are digital devices that come with scanners. After you scan the skin on your loved one’s forehead, the thermometer will quickly give you their temperature.

This type is much faster and easier to use than other thermometers. Nonetheless, a temporal artery thermometer is more expensive.

Just as importantly, some aspects may influence the accuracy of the scanner, including the patient’s exposure to sunlight for a prolonged period and abnormally high or low room temperatures.

Above all, you must make sure that you understand what the distance between your loved one’s forehead and the scanner should be. This enables you to obtain a precise temperature reading.

In fact, you want to learn how to get the right numbers when it comes to any other vital sign.

What is the pulse rate?

The pulse rate measures your loved one’s heart rate (the number of beats per minute), heart rhythm, and the strength of their pulse.

A typical and healthy person has an average pulse rate between 60 and 100 heart beats per minute. Keep in mind that certain factors may cause the heart rate to temporarily increase or fluctuate, including the following:

  • Exercise, which usually makes the heart beat faster
  • Illness
  • Injuries
  • Emotions, where calmness leads to a low pulse rate while sadness, anxiety, and/or stress induce pacy heart beats

You want to have your loved one in a resting and relaxed position in order to faultlessly assess their pulse rate.

How to Measure Your Pulse

Follow these steps to measure a patient’s pulse:

  1. Gently and firmly press on your loved one’s arteries with your first and second fingertips until you start to feel their pulse.
  2. Once the clock’s long (second) handle is on the 12, start counting the heart beats.
  3. Next, you could either count their pulse for 60 seconds or do so for 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. As an example, if the patient’s heart beats 20 times in 15 seconds, their pulse rate is 80 beats per minute (which is 20 multiplied by 4).

While you measure your elderly friend or family member’s pulse, you should stay focused on counting their heart beats and avoid checking the clock too many times.

Sometimes, having another person assess the patient’s heart rate can help, especially when you’re worried about the accuracy of your counting. The same could be said about other vital signs, namely the respiration rate.

What is the respiration rate?

The respiration rate identifies how many times a person breathes in a minute. Just as with the pulse, a patient’s respiration rate can be influenced by exercise, emotions, fevers, illnesses, and other medical conditions.

When you take a loved one’s respiration rate, you should also keep an eye out for any signs that they’re having difficulty breathing. Adults have an average respiration rate that’s between 12 and 16 breaths per minute.

How to Measure the Respiration Rate

First and foremost, you want to make sure that your elderly family member or friend is resting before you start to measure their respiration rate. In other words, don’t do this right after they exercise or when they’re feeling upset or anxious.

Once your loved one is in a resting position, you may begin counting the number of times their chest rises or expands within a 1-minute timeframe. This tells you how many times the patient is breathing per minute.

Both the respiration and pulse rates are relatively easy to find in comparison to other vital signs.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is defined as how forcefully the blood is pushing against the artery vein walls when the heart is contracting and the patient is relaxed.

When you take a patient’s blood pressure, there are two numbers that you need to measure:

  • Systolic Pressure (the Upper Number): The amount of pressure that’s inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood throughout the body.
  • Diastolic Pressure (the Lower Number): The artery’s pressure when the heart is resting and absorbing blood.

Blood pressure is typically recorded as systolic/diastolic pressure. To clarify, a person with a systolic reading of 100 and a diastolic one of 70 has a blood pressure of 100/70.

Stages of Blood Pressure

Here are the major blood pressure stages that you should know about:

  • Normal Blood Pressure: The average systolic and diastolic pressures are less than 120 and 80, respectively. In other words, a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or lower.
  • Elevated Blood Pressure: This occurs when the systolic pressure is between 120 and 129 and the diastolic figure is less than 80.
  • Stage 1 High Blood Pressure: The systolic and diastolic pressures range from 130 to 139 and 80 to 89, respectively.
  • Stage 2 High Blood Pressure: This happens when the systolic pressure exceeds 140 and the diastolic one goes over 90.

As a caregiver, it is crucial for you to know how to take a loved one’s blood pressure since it indicates whether the person has an underlying problem. For instance, a patient with hypertension, which is caused by high blood pressure, is at an increased risk of a heart attack.

How to Measure Blood Pressure

There are three main ways to measure your elderly family member or friend’s blood pressure:

  • Aneroid Monitor: This is the type of device that you would typically see at the doctor’s office. When you use an aneroid monitor, you have to first place the cuff around the patient’s arm and squeeze a rubber bulb to inflate it. After that, you can find their blood pressure by looking at the pointer in the device’s dial gauge.
  • Digital Monitor: Digital monitors are nearly identical to the aneroid ones. The only difference is that the patient’s blood pressure is displayed on a small screen rather than through the dial gauge’s pointer.
  • Finger and/or Wrist Monitor: Not only are these monitors more expensive than the former two, but they’re also less accurate.

To get a correct and precise measurement, you need to pick the right monitor and, just as importantly, make sure that your elderly loved one is in the right state.

Before You Measure Blood Pressure

The following minor preparations will give you the most reliable and errorless blood pressure readings:

  • Ask your family member or friend to avoid smoking or drinking coffee for at least 30 minutes prior to taking their blood pressure.
  • If possible, have the patient go to the bathroom ahead of time.
  • Give your elderly loved one 5 minutes to relax before you take their measurements.

These steps will allow the patient to get into a resting and relaxed mindset. Otherwise, your results may be faulty since caffeine, nicotine, a full bladder, and nervousness can each cause your friend or family member’s blood pressure to become abnormally high.

In the same vein, here are some other ways that can help make your numbers as accurate as possible:

  • Before taking your loved one’s blood pressure, have them sit with a straight and supported back (in other words, avoid couches and sofa chairs). Their feet should also be uncrossed and on the ground.
  • The patient’s arm must be on a solid and flat surface (such as a table) while the upper arm is close to the heart’s level.
  • The device’s cuff needs to be right above where the elbow bends. 

It goes without saying that checking the user manual that came with the device can make your results even more precise.

After you take your loved one’s blood pressure, try to obtain an additional 2 or 3 readings, with about one minute separating each one. Write down all of the results. If they’re all identical or very similar, it likely means that you have a correct measurement.

In addition, you want to take your elderly friend or family member’s blood pressure at around a similar time everyday (unless their doctor has other instructions) and write down the date, time, and results of each reading.

As a matter of fact, this may well apply to any of the four vital signs that you’re taking. That is to say, you have to ensure that your elderly patient is in a resting and relaxed position.

From there, you may follow the appropriate measurement-taking steps that we highlighted in this article and write down the results. This is the case when it comes to your loved one’s body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure.

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