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Preparing for Caregiving

Getting a Plan in Place

So many decisions about caregiving are often made from the hip (sometimes literally) after a loved one falls or experiences another type of emergency, such as a disease suddenly taking a turn for the worse. Here are ways to get a head start and make well thought-out decisions.

Talk About It. The Sooner the Better

Try to begin planning for your parents or loved ones aging needs way ahead of time. It's not an easy subject to bring up. Decreased independence isn't something any of us want to spend our days dwelling on. But it's much better to talk with your parents sooner than later in order to understand their wishes.

Lay Out the Map

This doesn't mean you'll be able to accommodate all their requests and preferences. Don't make promises you might not be able to keep. The future, as the song goes, is not ours to see. And yet have a plan in place should your parents' cognitive or physical health begin to decline. Think of it as a road map—albeit with a lot of detours and alternate routes.

Keep Your Eyes Wide Open

Monitor your parents' health and look for subtle changes. If they're showing signs of dementia, get a diagnosis immediately; the right treatments can slow progress, and earlier is always better. The same goes for many other diseases and illnesses. If you see your loved ones frequently, it may be harder to notice gradual change, so be on the look out. On the other hand, if your parents live far from you, ask family, friends, neighbors, or clergy for frequent updates on their condition.

Money Matters

Finances dictate many decisions about long-term care. Sit down with your parents and ask them what resources they have and how they plan to use them. Find out about any long-term care insurance, reverse mortgages, veteran benefits, social security, etc. This way, you'll know what's available and if you need to tap into other funding, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Cover the Legalities

Talking about declining health and money matters is tough enough, but taking it a step further to discuss end of life issues can be excruciating. Still, it has to be done. Do not wait until your parents can no longer speak for themselves. The more you can find out about your parents' wishes—and be sure to get everything down on legally binding documents—the less you'll be trying to make huge decisions for them when you're overwhelmed, sad, and exhausted. Save yourself and your other family members from what could be a devastating situation. Ask the hard questions.

Decide What Type of Care. And Where

These are big decisions that need a lot of research. If you haven't already, see Finding Care and explore all the options. If your parents or loved ones are still healthy, talk about different scenarios that may arise, and possible solutions.

Prepare to Keep Moves to a Minimum

One of the goals should be for your parents to make as few moves as possible. This means paying close attention to not only their current condition, but its possible progression. Here's why: Most people choose housing that addresses the minimum amount of care they need at that point in time. But most elderly illnesses and conditions are progressive. You'll want to avoid moving your loved ones, getting them settled, and then finding it necessary to move them again in six months because they need a higher level of care. Too many unnecessary moves like this are a common problem, and can worsen diseases such as dementia. So always look down the road when making a housing decision.

As the Primary Caregiver, You Can't Be too Prepared

If you decide you will take on the role as primary caregiver, follow these commandments as if they're written in stone:

  • Prepare thyself. Get organized. Get information. Get help. Get emotional support. Get into self-care: eat well, sleep well, exercise. And of course, get to icarevillage on a regular basis...
  • Prepare thy home. Work to make your home, or your parents' home if they'll be staying there, elder-friendly.
  • Prepare thy loved ones. This goes for your parents or aging loved ones, as well as your family members. Talk about the future in the positive as much as possible, but don't deny that there will be adjustments for everyone involved. Never be afraid to call on outside help, such as a counselor or therapist.