Aging Parents: Three Early Steps in Caring
They're the ones who saw you through scraped knees, a tough game, broken hearts, and so much more. It's that unconditional love between a parent and child that establishes a caring bond that lasts a lifetime. But when the tables get turned, and aging parents are the ones needing care, many aren't sure where to start.
Thankfully there are more resources than ever to help you sort through all of the caring decisions and responsibilities. Whether you are already caring for a parent, or feel that time might be on the horizon, we've got some tips for the early steps in caring for an aging parent.
1. Create a Network
No one has to go it alone when it comes to caring for an aging parent. If you're the primary caregiver or the one who is closest with your parents, get the word out when you start to notice a change.
- Talk with siblings and your own family members about the changes ahead. Where possible, enlist their help. A far-away sibling might not be able to "be there" to run errands or shuttle back and forth from doctor's appointments, but they can help with searching for resources, making calls or managing financial affairs. Your own family members can help lighten the load at home when you can't be there. Make a point to reassign household duties, shift schedules and perhaps hire outside help for jobs like cleaning and lawn work.
In addition to family members, there are others who can offer support. You may find the support you need through your parent's friends, physician, or pharmacist. Consider looking into local senior resources. Even your own employer can be helpful in supporting you during your ongoing care, and in times of crisis.
- Make an appointment with your parents and their doctor to discuss your concerns. Medical information can be overwhelming for anyone, so having a loved one with you at the doctor provides support. The extra ears also make it less likely that you’ll leave out any details. Be sure to ask what you need to know about your parents' health condition, and learn what symptoms to look for that may indicate worsening of their health conditions.
- Take your parents to visit with their pharmacist and make sure he or she knows who you are in case you have any questions about the medications your parents may be taking, and possible side effects to watch out for.
- Take advantage of community services on aging and organizations like the American Association on Aging. These agencies act as a hub to centralize and organize support programs that can assist you and your parents with services and transportation. Be sure to check into caregiver support programs for your own unique needs as a caregiver.
- Let your employer know about the possible changes in your personal circumstances. Their understanding will help relieve the stress if you have to take time off work for doctor's appointments or to deal with other matters.
- Know who your parents' friends and neighbors are, and make sure they know you. They can be an invaluable resource for helping out in a pinch or alerting you to anything that seems out of the ordinary.
2. Gather and Organize
You've formed your support network and have made sure everyone involved with the care of your parents is well informed. That's an excellent beginning. Next is to the practical business of caring for another person. Take the time to think, plan, and gather information. It's time well spent and will save you aggravation and worry in the future. Ask your parents to help you create a personal data file so their essential information is easily accessible whenever you need it. A short list for starters includes:
- A list of all medical conditions and medications.
- Insurance and medical care coverage numbers.
- Names, phone numbers, and addresses of doctors, specialists, dentist, and pharmacy, along with how to reach your parents’ friends, neighbors, landlord or maintenance staff and any others you should call in case of an emergency.
- Account numbers and contact numbers for all credit cards, bank accounts, financial advisors, lawyer, insurance policies, and investments.
3. Get Important Documents in Order
Two of the most important documents to prepare well in advance are the powers of attorney for financial decisions and a living will for healthcare decisions.
Power of attorney gives you authorization to act on someone else's behalf on legal, financial and business matters. A living will gives you authorization to direct healthcare decisions should that individual be unable to do so themselves.
Without these two documents, you could find yourself without the authority to make important decisions at a critical time. You and your parent will want to consult with a trusted attorney to prepare these documents. Be sure you, your parent, and your siblings understand what authority and responsibility these documents cover.
Caring for an aging parent may not be an easy undertaking, but it just might be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Starting with a good game plan can make all the difference as you face new challenges down the road.