What do you think when you hear the word caregiver? If your first thought is “not me,” you’re not alone. But as our population gets older and lives longer than ever before, caregiving will affect more and more people-from the baby boomers to Generation X. The need to provide care for our parents or loved ones can happen very slowly, or very suddenly. What you don’t want is to be caught unaware when the time comes to make a decision about a parent’s health or safety. That’s why it’s important to envision yourself as a caregiver now, and start planning for the potential challenges that may lie ahead. It’s all about being proactive. Here are a few places you can start:
1. Get legal and financial documents in order
2. Consider long-term care insurance
3. Keep your eyes open for the signs of aging
Get legal and financial documents in order.
This is important not only for your loved ones but also for yourself. Talk to an eldercare attorney about the documents that come into play when a person is old, sick or even dying: durable power of attorney, do-not-resuscitate orders (DNR), living wills, estate planning and even instructions for burial and obituaries. These can be uncomfortable and depressing to discuss, but in an emergency they are the things you need in a pinch-and by then, it will be too late to start pulling them together. Once everything is ready, put all important documents in a safe place like a fireproof safe along with birth, adoption and marriage certificates, naturalization and citizenship papers, social security cards and military records.
Now is also the time to start thinking about what the financial responsibility might be for caregiving duties. Will you be using your loved one’s funds to pay for expenses, or your own? Money is tough to talk about, but having an open conversation about it is essential. Enlist the help of an eldercare lawyer and financial advisor to avoid any liability down the road.
Consider long-term care insurance. Start thinking about long-term care insurance as early as possible. Again, this is a good idea for you to consider even as you review the options for your loved ones. While the insurance can be pricey up front, it will pay dividends later because it covers the things that Medicaid can’t, such as home care, assisted living, adult day care, respite care, hospice care, nursing homes and Alzheimer’s facilities. To find the best plan for you, comparison shop and ask questions. Key factors to consider:
• Waiting period: How long till benefits kick in?
• Benefits: What exactly is included? (they vary from plan to plan)
• Payout: How are benefits paid out: lump sum or reimbursements, weekly, monthly or annually?
• Inflation: How will the policy change over time?
Keep your eyes open. In most cases, aging doesn’t happen overnight. But if you’re not keeping close tabs on your loved one, or if you live far away, it can be harder to notice the signs of aging until it’s too late. Some obvious signs include increased clumsiness, more cuts and bruises, depression, difficulty walking and an unkempt appearance. More subtle signs include a greater desire to sleep, reduced appetite, asking for things to be repeated, and slurred speech.
It’s also a good idea to evaluate your loved one’s surroundings. Many older adults are victims of accidents in their own homes, most of which can be avoided with a few simple steps. I call this “elderproofing” the home. Start by eliminating any potential hazards: get rid of throw rugs; add safety grab bars in the bathroom at the tub, shower and toilet as well as nonslip strips; put appliances and dishes within easy reach; remove clutter. Check the lighting to make sure it allows for clear visibility. Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in working condition. Program your loved one’s phone with emergency numbers.
When it comes to caregiving, you can never be too prepared. Proactively planning for the care of a loved one, as well as your own aging care, can mean less stress, resentment and frustration down the road for everyone involved. As you plan, remember you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help-whether it’s physical support you need, or just a listening ear. We’re all in it together!
Marion Somers, Ph.D., is an elder care expert and the author of Elder Care Made Easier as well as the caregiving iPhone apps Elder 411 and Elder 911.
See Dr. Marion’s interview “Elderly Care Made Easier” on ABC News.
Must-have books for elder care, recommended by GRAND Magazine
• Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion’s 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One, by Dr. Marion Somers
• When Mom and Dad Need Help: Help Your Family Achieve the Quality of Life You All Deserve, by Michael C. Campbell
• The Complete Eldercare Planner: Where to Start, Which Questions to Ask and How to Find Help, rev. and updated ed., by Joy Loverde
• They’re Your Parents Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo
• The Daughter Trap: Taking Care of Mom and Dad…and You, by Laurel Kennedy
DR. MARION SOMERS