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How to Prepare to Become Your Parents' Caregiver

Gathering this information now will save you trouble and anxiety later 

By Robert L. Kane MD and SCAN Foundation

Editor's note: This article is part of a year-long project about aging well, planning for the changes that aging brings and shaping how society thinks about aging.

There’s no real training program for family caregivers, but there are things you can do to make it easier when the time comes that you need to step in to help your parents.

November, which is National Family Caregiver Month, is a good time to go through what they are.

The simplest, but perhaps most useful thing is to get a looseleaf notebook. Into that book you will enter all sorts of information you will eventually need to know. In so doing, you will have conversations with your mom and dad on vital topics that typically never get raised until it is too late.

(MORE: Help Parents Avoid Unwanted Medical Treatment)


So what should go in the book? Start with the basics:

  • You need to list all your parents’ bank accounts. While you are doing that, you may want to consider becoming a co-signer; that will greatly facilitate managing their money if something happens to them.
  • You need a list of all their insurance policies. Medicare numbers for Parts A and B, Medgap (to cover deductibles and co-payments), Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, life insurance and long-term care insurance. If they don’t have one or more of these, you might want to discuss why and whether it is worth reconsidering.
  • All their doctors (and dentists, optometrists, etc.). You need their names, addresses and phone numbers. Ultimately, you will become the case manager and you will want to record all their appointments.
  • Their diagnoses. What conditions do they have? Are all of them being treated?
  • A list of all their medications. This could be a good time to review their medications with a pharmacist to look for ways to simplify things and eliminate duplications and potential conflicts.
  • Their advance directives. Have you discussed their feelings about how aggressive they would want to be in treating serious problems that could arise? They may well be more willing to have that conversation than you are.
  • Information about their finances — investments, assets, pensions and retirement information (including Social Security). They may not want to share that information, but you need to at least know who to contact to find out about them in case of an emergency. A lawyer? A broker? A financial adviser? When was the last time they looked at their investments and their annual income?

Now that you have done such a good job getting ready to take on your parents' affairs, is it time you did the same thing for yourself?

Robert L. Kane MD, MD holds an endowed Chair in Long-term Care and Aging at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He is an internationally recognized expert on the care of older persons. He is also part of a group called The Long-Term Care Re-think Tank, and is doing all he can to change the way our country currently delivers care. Read More
By SCAN Foundation
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