If you are entering into a caregiver role, or simply want to start preparing for the possibility, the following seven-step action plan will help you get started, clarify the steps you need to take, and outline key points you need to explore. Many of these steps are outlined in more detail throughout this book, with additional tools to help you through this process.
1. Educate yourself about caregiving and the health-care system: Look for books on caregiving in your local library, helpful articles and websites online (there are many), and reach out to other caregivers you may know to get their advice and perspective. Touch base with your local community care action center or community support services to find out what services are available in your community to serve the needs of seniors.
Be prepared for the losses your parents may face and how you may have to deal with them, including incontinence, memory loss, wandering, and inability to recognize you or other loved ones. The more you know, the fewer surprises you’ll be faced with later.
2. Get to know the financial and tax support available: There are many tax benefits and government programs aimed at assisting those in caregiving roles and helping to minimize the financial burden involved.
3. Get organized: Find the documentation you will need to fulfill this role. This means ensuring your parents’ will and power of attorney forms are completed, up to date, and easy to find. Ensure any financial documents related to bills, pensions, insurance, and investments are also up to date and well organized, with key contact information and account numbers provided in case you need assistance.
4. Stay organized: Once caregiving begins, create a “Care Binder” (hard copy or via a shared online document) to house all the relevant information you and your family will need to maintain care for your loved one. Fill it with things such as schedules of upcoming appointments, medical information on types of medications and when they’ll need refilling, contact information for close neighbors and friends, and notes on any changes you notice in your parent, good or bad, that will be helpful to share with doctors and loved ones. Always take a list of questions and a pen and paper with you to medical appointments so that you can be sure to get all the information you need to adequately care for your loved one. Don’t leave the appointment until you have all those answers written down for future reference and clarification.
5. Communicate: Ask the questions that will help you understand the true wishes of your aging parents. Before you can truly make plans and budgets, you need to understand what type of care they are hoping for and where. Having realistic discussions about the cost of different facility options is essential. Ensure that all family members are aware of the wishes of the person who will need care, what the plan is, what different stages and related timing are likely to be involved, and that everyone is willing and able to take on their part in the plan. Make sure all siblings know who is going to be the power of attorney and what that entails. While communicating, avoid making promises you may not be able to keep. If, for example, your parent asks you to promise to never place him or her in a nursing home, it may be more realistic to tell him or her you’ll do the best you can to avoid it, but if health and safety concerns make it the best option down the road, you need the flexibility to do what is best for them.
6. Create a budget for care: Research the costs of the different stages of care and ensure that adequate funds will be ready and accessible at those times. Partner with your parent’s financial planner to make this happen properly so any delays, surprises, or obstacles will be avoided.
7. Create a plan to care for the caregiver: In order to be an effective caregiver, you need to take care of yourself as well. You will need to take breaks to replenish and recharge your physical and emotional energy, so ensure you are building a plan to do so by having other people you can rely on when you need a break, and by making time for activities that you find enjoyable. Taking respite from your caregiving duties will prevent burnout. Enrolling your loved one in an adult day program is one option for respite, as is having someone else come to the home to perform some caregiving duties instead of you (some can be arranged for free by getting a referral by a doctor). For longer breaks, you can pay for your parent to have a short-term stay in a long-term facility.
You will also benefit from talking to other caregivers (in person or in online support groups) to help remind you that you are not alone on this challenging journey.
An excerpt from Financial Care for Your Aging Parent by Lise Andreana.