More than 43 million Americans provide care to a loved one, 15.7 million of which are caring for a senior who is suffering from dementia. Twelve percent of parents are also caregivers, squeezing them between two challenging roles. Although loving your aging parents comes naturally, caregiving does not. There’s a steep learning curve for everyone who steps into this vital role. So don’t feel guilty because you don’t immediately know how to manage the many needs of your aging parents. This simple checklist can help you protect your parents and make the most of your caregiving efforts.
Health and Medical Support
A caregiving plan begins with understanding your parents’ health and medical needs. Work with your parents to do the following:
- Complete paperwork at each medical provider’s office so that you can view and discuss your parents’ medical records.
- Attend medical appointments with your parents, especially for diagnostic testing. You need a clear understanding of your parents’ health needs and prognosis to help you plan for the future.
- Help your parents manage their prescriptions by scheduling them to refill on the same day each month. Ask their doctors about autofill options. If your parents have trouble managing medication or you worry about medication misuse, an automatic pill dispenser may help.
Taking care of legal issues while your parents are still relatively healthy is one of the best things you can do. Try the following:
- Meet with a lawyer who specializes in elder law. They can address common concerns such as whether you need to seek guardianship of your parents, how to properly manage your parents’ money, and which strategies will best protect your parents’ assets.
- Help your parents draft important legal documents such as a will and an advance directive. A general power of attorney will allow you to make decisions if your parents are ever unable to do so.
- Become an authorized user on your parents’ accounts if they are no longer able to manage their own money. This allows you to pay bills on their behalf.
Aging often presents new safety concerns. Seniors with osteoporosis face a higher risk of falls, while those with dementia may wander or forget to turn off the stove. If your parents hope to remain in their home for as long as possible, the following strategies can keep them safe:
- Ask your parents’ doctors about the specific risks they face.
- Consider meeting with a geriatric care coordinator to assess the safety of your parents’ home and develop a plan.
- Address obvious safety concerns. A shower bar can reduce the risk of falls. A security camera or alarm can alert you to wandering, while a GPS device worn on a bracelet or necklace can help you find a lost parent.
Understanding Your Parents’ Wishes
Your parents’ abilities may shift and change, but who they are at their core does not. So it’s important to talk to your parents about their values as early as possible, before dementia and other illnesses make it difficult for them to express their wishes.
Many seniors are reluctant to talk about their plans, and even more reticent to discuss the potential need for supportive care. Don’t avoid this conversation, because delaying it could leave you guessing as to what your parents want. Rather than trying to pack everything into a single discussion, have an ongoing dialogue about your parents’ wishes. Try asking questions such as:
- What does a good death look like to you? Do you want to be at home, or do you want doctors to be doing everything they can in a hospital? Being Mortal is a great book to read together toward starting this difficult discussion.
- If you are no longer able to take care of yourself or do the things you once enjoyed, what is most important to you?
- What are your fears about growing older?
- Have you thought about how you want to be remembered?
- What sort of medical care do you want if you have a life-threatening illness?
- If you have dementia, do you want doctors to do all they can to save you in the event that you start to suffer from an additional illness? Or would you rather focus on comfort measures?
Planning for your parents’ caregiving needs is an ongoing project, not something you can do once and then forget about. A parent who could once live independently may need progressively more help. So work with your family to have an ongoing caregiving conversation. Some strategies that can help include:
- Meet with your parents’ doctors on a regular basis to discuss changes in their needs.
- Explore various options, such as in-home care, personal care homes, and senior living. Compare costs and benefits, then assess which option might be best for your parents at each age and stage of their needs.
- Consider your parents’ values. What is most important to them, and how can you best honor that?
- Don’t forget about pets. What happens to your parents’ pets if they need to move?
Caregiving for your loved ones is a challenge and a blessing all at once. If you’re ready to get back to being a loved one and are no longer able to care for your loved ones, then it might be time to look into a senior living community. The right senior living community manages many caregiving challenges for you. At The Arbor Company, we’ve served seniors for more than three decades. We keep seniors safe, listen to their needs, offer a rich variety of activities, and continually support caregivers. We can help you compare options for helping your aging parents and find what works best for you. Give us a call to learn more!