None of us ever wants to think about growing old, medical problems, or eventually dying. The truth of the matter is that these are all things that will happen to all of us. The problem is we don’t know how we will be impacted by our aging, what medical challenges we will face, and how and when we will die.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not being proactive about planning ahead for potential care needs. My mother died when she was 56 after a battle with cancer. I wish we would have been more prepared in terms of what her wishes were and how she should be cared for. What measures did she want us to take and how did she define the quality of her life? I was forced to guess the answers in the middle of her health crisis at a time I was grieving and overwhelmed.
I learned from that experience and hence, my father and I had numerous discussions. He and I did planning in advance that made my role as his primary caregiver go much more smoothly. He lived to be 97. We focused on specific areas 20 years before he needed them. That gave me the information and tools I needed to help plan ahead and ensuring he would receive the best possible care when needed. It was a huge gift as his daughter and caregiver. Planning ahead is a critical skill that potential caregivers and those who will need care someday should put into place. Here are tips to help you know where to focus your efforts:
- Start Early- You don’t want to wait until there are medical or memory issues to have the caregiver conversation. Be proactive and initiate the caregiver conversation when your loved one is healthy and mentally intact. This ensures you are not hastily having to make care decisions from a place of crisis and uncertainty. It also is important to know that the information and wishes being shared with you as a potential caregiver are clear. Finally, early on you can recognize if the care demands that will be requested of you are tasks you are uncomfortable with or not capable of doing. If this is the case there is no harm in sharing this with your loved one so the two of you can determine a more appropriate choice as a caregiver. Make these decisions together if possible using a collaborative model.
- Have Legal Safeguards in Place-Consult an attorney specializing in estate planning. You want to have legal plans in place for health care and long-term care. You also want to focus on management of financial resources and properties. Finally, you need a legal document in place to make medical decisions for someone who is unable to make decisions for themselves. It takes time to gather financial information. Understanding a loved one’s beliefs regarding questions like what makes life worth living or what would they want to be done if they were on a ventilator or in a coma is not always a quick process. Legal forms you will want to have in place include a Living Will, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and Power of Attorney. Ask your attorney what legal documentation is pertinent and necessary for your loved one’s situation.
- Identify who Will be a Part of Your Caregiver Team-You have to assess what your individual situation is and what personal demands you have to balance your role as a caregiver. You may be single and working part-time when you begin. Life circumstances may evolve and grow to include your own family, full time job, personal relationships, or school commitments. Obviously, things change with time. You need to reassess your ability to be a caregiver as these changes occur. One of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is waiting until they are burnt out to ask for help. Planning ahead is the best way you can take care of yourself as a caregiver.
- It may be that initially, you can do it on your own especially if a loved ones care needs are minimal such as going grocery shopping once a week. Identify other potential members of your caregiver support team. Consider family members, neighbors, friends, members of their religious institution, and healthcare professionals. Be aware of programs like adult day care, senior centers, assisted living programs, or home health care in the area that can offer additional help as care needs increase in frequency and intensity.
Planning ahead is one of the best and most powerful choices you will make as a caregiver. You need to be flexible as your situation and the status of your loved one evolves and changes. Having early conversations and preparations in place will facilitate the process. Your caregiving role actually begins before you are a caregiver. Having a plan to follow with resources and support mechanisms in place will make you a stronger and better caregiver from beginning to end.
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