Caregiving 101: I'm Suddenly A Caregiver (or Will Be Soon)! Now What?
At some point, you may find yourself thrust into the role of caring for your mom or dad because of the recent death of one parent, a sudden illness or injury resulting in a long-term need for care, or any number of other reasons. When that time comes, you may also discover that, for whatever reason, you cannot be near your loved one to care for them.
Such situations can be frustrating and often lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety. So, whether you are in this situation now, or expect that you might be in the future, we hope this article will help you prepare for that time so you can avoid some of those emotions and focus on giving your loved one the care that they need.
In order to provide proper care for your aging mom or dad, you’ll need to assess what their current needs are and what needs they are likely to have in the future. Evaluate their health, medical and safety needs, financial situation, and their independence level. You’ll need to have conversations with the one you’re caring for and any family members or others who will be involved in their care.
Getting answers to these and other questions may not be a comfortable situation for everyone involved, but remember that successful care of your mom/dad depend on them. When dealing with your parent, it can be helpful to suggest you are making preparations for yourself and ask how they’ve prepared for similar situations as though you’re asking for advice. One way to approach parents with questions about the future is to ask ‘what if’ questions, i.e. “What if you become ill and cannot direct your own medical care?”
If you need help assessing your parent’s needs and finding appropriate services, a Geriatric Care Manager (GCM) can be helpful. A GCM is a professional who assists older adults and their families in developing care plans. Most charge a fee ranging from $50 - $125 per hour but it is well worth the investment. They are particularly useful if your parent’s care is more complex than you can handle or if your other responsibilities prevent you from providing the level of care that is appropriate. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers website has a searchable directory of GCM’s to help you find one in your parent’s area.
If you are unable to afford a GCM, many state-funded agencies, such as the local Area Agency on Aging, often have care managers on staff who can also help you, or direct you to other helpful resources.
It’s also a good idea to establish a network of friends and volunteers close to your parent. These people can greatly assist you by visiting your parent occasionally, helping with transportation or responding to emergencies until you can get involved. Carry the contact information for these people, along with those of your parent’s medical providers with you at all times. Free web sites like www.ShirleyBOARD.com can help you store vital contact information and health information that you can access from anywhere in time of need as well as find additional people in your parent’s area who may assist you with finding services and possibly help with providing care. It also allows you to keep an online journal of your caregiving journey and invite others to access certain information.
If your aging loved one is staying at home, it’s very important to ensure that their home has adequate safeguards and is equipped to meet their needs. Examples include installing railings and grab bars, securing throw rugs and putting things in convenient places so that your parent doesn’t have to stoop or reach. Our article Creating a Safe Environment for Your Aging Loved One can help you determine what adjustments might need to be made to your parent’s home to keep them safe.
Getting Organized: The Little But Important Things
Finances and medical care may be a delicate topic for your loved one. They may not want to share that information or give up any control. But getting as much information as you can helps you provide better care, especially if your loved one becomes unable to make their own decisions. You need to have an understanding of your loved one’s financial stability and resources to help you to ensure that bills continue to get paid and that your loved one can continue living as comfortably as possible.
Information you need to gather includes the following:
- Personal Information: Know your parent’s Social Security number, birth date and place, location of their education and military records, group memberships, awards, and the location of their safe deposit box and its key
- Legal Documents : Know the location of their most up-to-date will and living will; birth and death certificates; vehicle title, registration, and inspection information; deed of trust for their home; and certificates of marriage, divorce, citizenship and adoption.
- Monthly bills : Know the amount due, due date and how they currently get paid, account number and contact information. Setting up bills for automatic bank withdrawal will be a convenience for your aging loved one and you.
- Insurance policies : Include account numbers and contact information for home, auto, health, Medicare, Medicaid, prescriptions (and favorite pharmacy), long-term care, and any other sort of insurance your parent may have.
- Bank Accounts: Include account numbers and contact information for credit cards, checking, savings and investment accounts.
- Taxes: Know the due dates and contact information for local property tax and other municipal and association financial obligations.
- Medical, Legal and Financial Advisors: Get the names and contact information for your parent’s lawyers, doctors, accountants, financial advisors, etc.
- Sources of Income & Other Assets : Keep track of your parent’s s ources of income and assets, including pension funds; IRAs; 401(k)s; interest; investments; a copy of most recent income tax return; and account numbers, contact information, etc., for any assets not mentioned above.
- Medical Needs: Know what prescriptions your parent is on, any upcoming or recurring appointments, and other medical needs your parent has.
When appropriate, you may ask your loved one to introduce you to the people that provide care and services for them. If necessary, get legal permission to act on your parent’s behalf to conduct business, pay bills, etc.
Planning for the Future: Care Options.
While your parent may be in relatively good health and be fairly independent now, it’s good to know where your loved one can go if illness, injury or declining health results in a need for more direct care. From assisted living facilities and group homes for folks who just need a little day-to-day help, to retirement communities and nursing homes for those with medical concerns, there is a wide spectrum of care facilities available – even full-time in home caregivers . Because the array of services are so broad, we’ve provided a separate article Care Options for Your Aging Loved One to help you decide which options are best for your loved one.
Planning for the Future: Legal and Financial Affairs
Changes in the health of an aging parent can be sudden, dramatic and unpredictable. To be prepared to help your loved one make medical, financial and legal decisions, the following legal documents should be in place:
- Power of Attorney — This document gives you the ability to make certain financial decisions or take certain actions of behalf of your parent. Its powers must be explicitly defined and they are only effective as long as your parent is mentally competent.
- Durable Power of Attorney — This is like the first, but its powers continue even after your parent loses the ability to make informed decisions. Often, its powers don’t become effective until your parent is unable to make decisions for themselves.
- Living Will — This document allows your parent to define what procedures may be used to prolong his/her life should they fall into a coma or terminal illness with no hope of recovery.
- Healthcare Durable Power of Attorney — This document assigns the authority to make healthcare and medical decisions on behalf of your parent to you or another care provider. It usually is only effective when your parent is unable to make decisions for themselves. It is more powerful and more encompassing than a living will.
- Will — Without a will, your parent’s estate can be tied up for months or years as it undergoes public court proceedings. A will, even a simple will, reduces confusion and interference by the state about what will happen to your parent’s estate once they are gone.
More information about these documents can be found in the article Organizing Legal and Financial Affairs for Your Loved One.
Caring for a loved one from far away is never easy, but hopefully the tips in this article will get you started and ease the transition into your role as a caregiver. And again, www.ShirleyBOARD.com can help make your job easier with the following tools and features:
- Centrally store your important care giving information
- Give access to friends, family and healthcare professionals – and decide what they can view
- Keep a record of your care giving journey - for years to come.
- Network with other caregivers.