More than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year.
Individuals caring for their aging parents face challenges on a multitude of fronts: financial, emotional, medical and legal. Here are some steps to take now and in the future from Shannon Martin, a Clearwater, Florida-based geriatric care manager at Aging Wisely (agingwisely.com) that can help make what is inherently a stressful situation more manageable.
"Whether you are currently trying to coordinate medical or in-home care for your elderly parent, you are concerned about memory loss and possible dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or you want to help your aging family member avoid a crisis, these are some common areas of eldercare or long term care planning that you can initiate today", says Ms. Martin, Director of Community Relations for Aging Wisely, which helps families in the Tampa Bay area caring for aging parents.
Start Talking: Start discussions about these issues. Use this article or a friend's experience as a conversation starter. Ask loved ones what they would want if they needed help.
Get Estate Planning Underway: Plan legally for possible incapacity. Documents such as durable power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, and a living will should be part of your estate planning along with a will or trust. Share what you have done with relatives and how to access documents.
Consolidate Medical Information: Start a "health file" with copies of medical tests, doctor's contact information, and medicines (including notes about medicines that did not work for you). This can be kept in a simple file or binder, or you can use online tools such as "Life Ledger" or USB drives to store information.
Practice Prevention: Know your family and personal medical history and risks and practice prevention.
Evaluate Financial Alternatives: Review your financial situation with a professional. They should help you look at the comprehensive picture and anticipate how you can finance long-term care needs. Consider long-term care insurance as part of your total insurance and financial plan.
Discuss Funerals: Consider funeral planning, whether it simply be writing down your wishes and letting loved ones know what you want, or purchasing a pre need burial contract. Investigate options and which is best for you, but at least provide loved ones some guidance about what you would want so they don't have the added stress when they are grieving.
Elder Proof the House: For parents still living at home, identify resources to manage specific concerns. Some examples include medication management systems (from simple pill boxes to electronic reminder systems), emergency response systems, grab bars and mobility devices, and meal delivery services.
Discuss Duties: Have a family discussion early regarding care giving duties and plans for a loved one's care. Schedule regular conferences to ensure continuity. Consider using a professional to facilitate, especially when there are conflicts.
Seek Support: Talk to others who have been through similar situations, including professionals and family caregivers. For some people a support group or online network may be helpful, for others just reading and gathering information may help you feel empowered.
Keep the Peace: Express your specific concerns with your loved one and work toward solutions together. Engage a professional or other family members when your loved one is resistant.