There is no one right way to be a caregiver; everyone’s situation is different. You will find that, among a host of things, family dynamics, financial resources and the ability of your parent(s) to provide guidance for the support that they desire will shape your situation.
If you've been tasked to set up care for an aging parent or loved one, where do you even begin? What is the right way to go about this important task? Until I was faced and blessed with parents who are now 95 and 97, and still going strong (relatively) I don’t think I fully understood this subject.
A recent PBS article, titled "How to care for your aging parents from a distance," assures us that there is no one right way to be a caregiver, as everyone’s situation is different. Caregiving responsibilities can entail at least information gathering and the coordinator of services.
One step is to ask your parent(s) to provide you with information to locate their important records, phone numbers, email addresses and other essential contact information. This includes legal documents like a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and Durable Power of Attorney for financial matters. These should be created before a health condition makes it impossible.
The original article suggests that to keep things in order, long-distance caregivers will benefit from keeping a Care Notebook. This is a central place to maintain all critical information and can be digital or just a regular old three-ring binder with pocket dividers. Do not forget current info on your parent’s prescriptions. Also, if you hire professional caregivers for your loved one, keep a separate notebook to document medication administration and other basic physical and mental health status information. Instructions to paid caregivers should be in writing.
PBS provides a few other important suggestions, such as:
Communicate. Whenever possible, include your loved one in the decision making process—especially choices on care and housing. Consider his or her expressed preferences and respect their values, even if they are not yours.
Education. Read up on the available care and services. Every region and location is unique in the types of services that are available, but some are found throughout the U.S. There is an emerging type of business that specializes in connecting care facilities with those in need. While this is limited to Texas, take a look at www.cariloop.com for an example of these emerging services. I like their motto of something like "be the hero of your family by finding the right place for your parent."
Take Care of Yourself. Caregiving can be stressful, and you should have a support network for yourself. Hire help and get other family members involved. Attempting to do it all yourself is not healthy or safe for you or your loved one.
Communicate With Your Siblings, Seek and Give Support. The child or children in the same hometown have special demands placed upon them, and it is often very hard for them to lead lives independent from the parent or parents. This is particularly hard for them if they have suffered their own losses. At the same time, constantly feeling guilty because you are not the one “on location” isn’t helpful for anyone. Do the best you can to be understanding, and supportive, but as with all of the children, do not try to do more than you are able to physically or emotionally do. Talking with each other is the best medicine.
Changing Needs. Remember that your loved one's care needs will constantly change, and original article stressed that it is never too early to consider possible future needs. There are many options to be considered; making informed, well-thought-out decisions about your parent’s care are vital, and your elder law attorney can help. As your parent's needs change, they may be the last to see the change, insisting that they can still drive, that they can still live alone, or that they can still make banking decisions, or selling property decisions, all by themselves. As painful as it may be, they must be protected.
I was given, several years ago, an excellent book titled HOW TO SAY IT TO SENIORS, Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders, Solie, New York, Prentiss Hall, 2004. Without spoiling the book (on which I may do a review at a later date) there are developmental steps through which seniors must pass as the end approaches, and an understanding of these processes may be critical to effective communication with parents.
The realization of your new role as a caregiver can be stressful. The good news is that you can contact a qualified elder law attorney to get more information and the answers you need. One of the great benefits of a truly qualified elder law attorney is that they can often help reduce one of the primary stress points, the fear of running out of money, or the belief that you must first be penniless before governmental assistance is available.
If you would like to chat with us at the Graham Law Firm, you will always find our information on our website www.thegrahamlawfirm.com.
Reference: PBS (October 9, 2014) "How to care for your aging parents from a distance"