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How can I be ready when an aging family member needs caregiving?

by Amanda Lambert | Contributor
Feb 25, 2020


We all know of or read about the amazing examples of people who age with their health and mental faculties intact. Yet, not all of us or our family members are so fortunate. Decline can be slow or sudden following an event like a fall or exacerbation of a chronic illness. When this happens, help is needed usually by an adult child or professional caregiver. According to The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the last 12 months. This was in 2015, so that number is expected to be even higher now. This figure also does not account for paid caregiving. How and when to support an ailing family member can be stressful and confusing. Who will assume this responsibility and what impact will it have? Planning now can save time, money, and lessen the strain of decision making.

Work backwards

It is human nature to wait to act when a crisis occurs. Be better prepared by looking at the worst-case scenario and working backwards. This is counterintuitive but very helpful. Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the worst that can happen?
    This may include assisted living or even 24-hour nursing care.
  • How and who will pay for care?
    Are there sufficient resources available to support care needs throughout the life span?
  • What resources are available to help?
    Look at rehab and assisted living communities before they are needed. Investigate home health and private-duty agencies.

Establish a foundation of communication and trust

  • Discuss finances
    Get as complete a picture as you can about your family member’s financial picture. If necessary, establish a trust with appointed trustees (could be you along with other family members). This way you can take control if and when needed.
  • Get medical information
    This includes doctors with contact info. Get a list of current medications. Establish a health care power of attorney whether it is yourself or another family member.
  • Talk about end-of-life wishes
    Yes, this is not easy, but having this frank discussion now will avoid misunderstanding and conflict later. Get it in writing.
  • Know what kind of insurance your older family member has
    Insurance affects the type and number of resources available.

Know what to look for and how to look for it

Most adult children find out too late that a family member needs help. If you aren’t paying attention, things can deteriorate quickly. Privacy and respect are critical, but so is recognizing the signs that things aren’t going well.

  • Check in often
    If you aren’t local at least call and ask how things are going. While maintaining privacy, talk to your parents' friends, church members.
  • Drop in
    Seeing is believing. A messy house, spoiling food in the fridge and poor hygiene are indications that things may not be going well.
  • Observe your family member
    Watching someone walk or transfer can reveal problems with balance or other physical problems.
  • Check on medications
    If there is no organized pill box or there are bottles of expired medications, this could be a sign of cognitive issues.
  • Talk to the primary care provider
    With health care power of attorney, you can obtain medical information about your aging family member. Do so, with permission. You may be surprised at what you find out. It is even possible that the physician has already recommended a caregiver.
  • Notice memory problems or confusion
    This may indicate dementia or some other medical problem. Some red flags: car accidents and medication mistakes. Notice confusion over finances, getting lost and forgetting names of family members. Be aware of signs of financial exploitation.

How to think and talk about caregiving

Son helping elderly father with paperwork

We all want to help our aging parents. Our family member may not want that help. Many people are much more likely to accept help from another family member than a paid professional caregiver. Others will refuse any help at all.

  • Show respect
    Having this discussion will go better if you honor your family member’s independence and autonomy.
  • Start low and go slow
    Suggest a small change like hiring a housekeeper to assist with keeping things clean and organized. Build from there.
  • Have a collaborative attitude
    Resist the urge to make wholesale changes because you are in charge! Work as a team making decisions together.

Establish limits

Most family caregivers are women. And many of them provide personal caregiving to a family member at great cost to themselves. Lost wages, lost jobs and difficulty returning to the workforce after caregiving, are a few of the consequences. A New York Times article this past year reports that over time, female caregivers risked lower incomes and a higher risk of poverty in old age.

Caregiving can be a slippery slope. It begins with small tasks that can quickly escalate to bigger and more time-consuming efforts. Strategizing and planning ahead will help to mitigate the stress and strain of caring for a loved one.

  • Think ahead about what you are and are not willing to do before you are faced with a decision. Many caregivers end up doing physical activities that compromise their own safety. Some perform medical tasks that should be done by a nurse or other qualified medical professional.
  • Talk with your aging parents about the limits to your time and ability to be able to provide hands-on caregiving. Establish these boundaries early.
  • Have solutions on hand. Paid caregiving and/or respite care are possibilities. Factor in the cost of these services. Cost can be a key point of resistance to paid caregiving so be prepared to answer those concerns.
  • Ask other family members for help.

Advanced planning has many moving parts. As you plan for the future, recognize that caring for an aging parent is highly likely. Be aware, prepare and educate yourself. By taking these steps, your caregiving path will be less stressful.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company. Our financial planners and retirement income certified professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and help you to achieve your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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