“Old age is not for sissies.” My mom says it all the time. She’s right.
You know what else is not for sissies? Caregiving.
If we are lucky enough to have our parents live well into old age, chances are we will all take on the role of caregiver at some point. Some of us will enter it willingly, others reluctantly. Some will only spend a few months in the role, others may spend years. Getting started is overwhelming. Heck, the whole thing is overwhelming!
When our parents reach the point that they need more than just our physical assistance with tasks they used to do themselves (i.e., yard work, more difficult household chores, etc.), knowing where to start and how to begin is daunting at best. Often, children live in denial because they simply don’t know what to do first. And, if the parent is also in denial and refusing help, the issues are compounded.
I can’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been on this journey for about five years now. I’ve made mistakes, done a lot of the right things and learned an enormous amount. What follows are some of my best “getting started” tips. And by getting started, I mean BEFORE you’re really needed as a caregiver.
Schedule a family meeting
I’m an only child. If you are, too, you can skip this step. That’s probably the only pass you’re going to get along the care-giving path! For the rest of you, sit down and talk about it! Don’t wait until an event (illness, fall, stroke, etc.) forces the issue. Sit down together when emotions aren’t running high and no one is stressed out by the circumstances and have a frank discussion. Who is willing and able to do what? What plans need to be made about future living arrangements? How will any care be financed? Include your loved ones in the conversation if possible. There is a wealth of information on family meetings on the internet. This is one article I like.
Consult an elder-care attorney
Learn the differences between medical and financial powers of attorney and guardianship. Figure out what is likely to best suit the needs of your situation. This article offers an overview of the difference between POA and guardianship, but each state is likely to have its own nuances. If these documents aren’t already in place, do it! Don’t wait!
Meet your loved one’s doctors
Attend a routine appointment with your loved one. Accompany him or her into the exam room to meet the doctor. Allow your loved one to introduce you and explain you’ll be the caregiver when the time comes. Make sure you are listed on all medical records as someone to whom the provider can release information. HIPPA laws will make it very difficult for you to help your loved one if this is not in place. Further details can be found in this article.
Discuss financial arrangements
Whether you meet with your loved one’s financial advisor, attorney or simply go over documents with your loved one, it’s important to know what assets are available to finance the care of your loved one, where they are held and how to access them when they’re needed. Eldercare.gov offers some tips here.
Well before the tough decisions need to be made, begin looking for support services such as mobile meals, home care services, area offices on aging, Veteran’s Administration offices, senior centers and more in your local area. I strongly encourage you to find and join a support group for caregivers. This is the best decision I’ve made as a caregiver, bar none! Not only has it given me an outlet to discuss my feelings and talk to others who can relate to what I’m going through, but it has been the greatest source of knowledge and information for all aspects of care-giving.
So, no, caregiving is not for sissies, but, taking these five steps, before your loved ones are in dire need of help will go a long way to ensure that everyone is able to navigate through the process with a sense of peace and it will ease tensions and fears of the unknown for all involved. In this case, ignorance is most surely NOT bliss, but knowledge IS power!
Of course parents aren’t the only people we care for. Often it’s a spouse, a sibling, a child. While I write about my experience, which revolves around caring for my mom, my aunt, and, to a lesser degree, my mother-in-law, I want to be sure to acknowledge that folks in these other care-giving roles have it just as tough, maybe more-so.
If you’ve already begun navigating the care-giving maze, what is one thing you’re so thankful you did at the beginning or one thing you wish you had done that you didn’t?