Despite the fact that millions of Americans are facing elder care challenges and struggles, there are not a lot of supportive and informative resources that can prepare families for what to expect.
Getting access to information, demystifying the role of elder care, and learning what is ahead can lighten the load for those just beginning their journey. As a longtime elder law attorney in California and author of The ElderCare Ready Book, I know that families can learn not to fear the elder care role, but just be ready for it.
Why Is Elder Care So Stressful?
Many family caregivers are part of the so called “sandwich generation.” They are caring for (or have just stopped caring for) their children and now need to care for one or more parents or older relatives.
One big difference how is that child care starts with the very intense attention given to a newborn and the care needs decrease as they age. However, the same aging process with parents only makes their needs and care demands increase. Cognitive abilities wane and memory troubles — which are often combined with mood changes and even aggression — additionally cause intense frustration while a child is trying to care for his or her parents.
How to Expect the Unexpected
Families just starting out on their elder care journey can pack their “suitcase” ahead of time so that they are ready to go when decisions need to be made, and the necessary information and documents are then at hand.
Here are six suggestions to help prepare for some of the most common stressful situations that can occur during elder care:
1. Complete a detailed medicine list for your parent(s)
If they are not able to communicate what medicines they are taking (or should be taking) to emergency personnel and medical providers, they may be misdiagnosed. Many seniors have multiple doctors and it is not uncommon for medicines to counteract each other when doctors do not have access, or do not carefully review, what has already been prescribed.
2. Have “the talk” with your parents
Make time to sit down and talk (well before memory problems might arise) to communicate with them about their wants, needs, financial resources, health issues, end-of-life decisions and more. You may have to do this more than once. Be persistent and supportive so their choices and needs are clear and understood by everyone.
3. Update documents
Have important legal, financial, and health care documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health directives) prepared, updated or reviewed far in advance of possible health and cognitive issues, particularly if your parents are beginning to show increasing health issues. Older documents may not be accepted by many financial companies or governmental agencies. Additionally, if memory issues or diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s make your parent legally “incompetent” to make decisions, it is then too late for him or her to sign the important documents that can help in the management of their affairs.
Important and necessary documentation kept in a safe deposit box will be worthless if the bank is closed.
4. Make sure you can get access to information and documentation when you need it
For example, many professionals, either by law or by company policy, will not talk to anyone who is not authorized. Also, important and necessary documents kept in a safe deposit box will be worthless if they are needed when the bank is closed or if you are not authorized to access the box.
5. Review your parents’ assets, income and expenses
Anticipating future costs can help prevent them from outliving their money and being forced to go without necessary care or necessitating contributions by the children. Make sure their income and assets allow flexibility to access resources as their care needs change.
6. Research and determine what care providers and living situations your parent is comfortable with
Determine before the care is needed where your parent would like to go when being admitted to a hospital, rehab center, nursing home, board and care facility, assisted living community, independent living community, memory care community, home care company and even hospice. This will save everyone a lot of stress during a financial or medical crisis.
Finally, with all of this, it is also possible to respect your parent’s independence while also being supportive and ready to help them manage their needs as they age. Seniors often value their independence above all; but in most cases, a trusted family member who has the elder’s needs as a priority can be the key to avoiding fraud, overspending on care due to poor planning and other pitfalls.
Breaking down the preparation and organization for elder care can make the situation much less stressful for caregivers. Most importantly, as I discovered through my own elder care journey, it is helpful to know what the most common pitfalls are for families and how to avoid them.