your mother or father has fallen and is hospitalized with a broken
hip. Or your spouse has wandered off and gotten lost several times.
Or a long-time friend and mentor has lost a lot of weight and rarely
seems to leave home.
Caregiving descends upon us in all sorts of ways - through sudden
crises or a series of small but unsettling mishaps and warning
signs. You may be the only person to step in or you may simply be
the linchpin of a large network of family members and friends
willing to help. Whatever the situation, you're not sure of the next
step. Or even the first step.
Each caregiving situation is unique, of course. The senior's medical
history, financial resources, personality, relationships with
potential caregivers, proximity to services and other factors all
determine the best approach to take. Some may have prepared in
advance for declining health and have the necessary documents and
services in place; others may have delayed taking action because
they always believed they had more time.
Whatever the circumstances, the following guidelines should help you
a deep breath, this may be the most important advice you receive
throughout the caregiving journey. All along the way, remember
to pause from time to time and collect your thoughts. Clear your
mind and relax. It may be difficult, but it will help sustain
your spirits and prevent you from sinking under the weight of
sure you know the senior's date of birth and social security
number. You will need this information to access many services.
information about medical providers. If you haven't already,
gather details about your loved one's physicians and health
insurance. Here is some of the information you will need:
and phone numbers of the senior's doctors.
of health insurance policies and the front and back of all
of medications and instructions for taking them
and results of recent medical exams
and phone number of the love one’s pharmacy
as much as possible about the medical condition afflicting the
senior. Talk to the doctors. Conduct research on the Internet.
Seek reference books in the library. Contact organizations and
associations that provide information about the disorder. Study
the symptoms and progression of the disease so you can
anticipate what might come next. Find out about available
treatments, experimental research protocols and any ongoing
a family meeting. Try to get as many people as possible involved
from the beginning. Early input from them will facilitate
communication and decision-making down the line. Allow all
family members a chance to express themselves and their feelings
about what should be done. If possible, designate a person to be
responsible for each task.
out if the senior has the proper legal tools and documents in
place. Has someone been appointed to take care of business and
make health care decisions in case of temporary or permanent
disability? Has the senior made clear their wishes for
end-of-life care? If necessary, consult an attorney specializing
in elder law. These are some of the documents you should help
the senior prepare if they haven't already done so:
power of attorney for finances
power of attorney for health care
health insurance matters. What kind of coverage does the senior
have? Are they eligible for Medicare or Medicaid? If so, are
they enrolled properly? Do they have a long-term care policy in
place? If so, what exactly does it cover? Do they have any
coverage through a private pension plan or retirement package?
other available financial resources. What assets does the person
have? Do they own real estate? How much is in savings accounts,
IRAs, stocks and bonds and other investments? What is the
monthly income from Social Security, other government programs
and private pension plans?
a crash course in community resources. Find out about senior
centers and adult day services in the senior's area. What are
the best home health agencies around? What meal delivery and
transportation support options are available? Assess the
senior's skills and determine the resources you need.
if this is an acute crisis likely to pass, start gathering
information about assisted living facilities and other long-term
care options. When the time comes, you want to be able to offer
the senior a range of options to choose from.
hiring a case manager. These professionals are trained to
quickly assess the overall situation, make recommendations about
needed services and, if necessary, coordinate community
resources and hire and manage paid caregivers.
with everybody and anybody. Talk to friends, neighbors,
acquaintances - anyone with experience in caring for an elder.
In reaching out you will assemble a mosaic of information about
how to proceed and what to expect down the line. You will learn
that others have been there before and found their way through -
though sometimes with great difficulty and sadness.
to the senior. This is not always possible, but it is best to
allow the person as much independence as circumstances permit.
Remember that the caregiver's role is to help them maintain as
much control over their lives as feasible, not take it away. The
more you can consult with them and consider their desires, the
smoother the transition in your relationship will be.
sure everyone on the caregiving team - whether family members,
friends or professionals - has the information they need to
perform their responsibilities. Make a list of emergency
numbers, family contact numbers and other items and distribute
it to those who might need it. Family members should know how to
locate legal, financial and medical documents like durable
powers of attorney, wills, investment account statements and
health insurance policies in case of emergency.
the senior is still living at home, make sure you and others in
the inner circle have keys to the residence in case of
good notes. Whenever you talk to a doctor, lawyer, insurance
company, service agency, government office or advocacy
organization, write down the name of the person you spoke with,
contact information and the substance of the conversation.
Maintain separate files for different areas of concern -
financial topics, medical affairs and so on.
your own feelings of loss, anger, shock and confusion. Perhaps
you realized this moment was coming, perhaps not. In any event,
you are likely to find unsettling emotions bubbling through the
surface. Allow yourself time to experience them. Write them down
in a journal. Take a long bath. Find a quiet corner and close
your eyes. Take care of yourself, too.