(WebMD) The right planning and knowing where to get advice can make all the difference in your caregiving experience. Follow these tips to keep you and your loved one healthy and happy.
No. 1: Have the Conversation Early
Don’t wait until a medical emergency happens to have a talk with your loved one about long-term care.
“We should have this conversation on an ongoing basis about our own preferences for long-term care and those of our parents or loved ones,” says Nancy Wilson, MSW, assistant director of the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine.
“It’s never too early.”
You can invite your brothers, sisters, or other family members to the discussion. Contact your relatives before the meeting to find out what long-term plans your loved one may have already shared with them.
No. 2: Tackle Financial and Legal Issues
Ask if your loved one has a power of attorney document. It allows you or someone else to make medical and financial decisions if he’s unable to do so himself now or in the future. You need separate documents for financial and health decisions. In many states, you can get them online for free. You can get a medical power of attorney form from a doctor’s office.
Ask if he has a living will. It’s a document that’s used in end-of-life situations. It lists the medical treatments he wants or doesn’t want to keep him alive if he’s unable to speak for himself.
Go over your loved one’s financial status. Has he saved for long-term care? Will he be eligible for Medicaid if he goes into a nursing home?
Many families sort out these issues on their own through online resources and the suggestions of others who’ve made long-term plans. But you might need professional advice for some situations. A lawyer who specializes in elder care can help.
No. 3: Organize Important Documents
“If you’re overseeing your loved one’s care, you’re going to need their legal documents from time to time,” says Tiffany Pippen, MSW, a family consultant at Family Caregiver Alliance.
Ask your loved one to find these documents for you:
- Birth certificate
- Social security card
- Driver’s license or organ donor card
- Property deeds
- Car titles
- Marriage certificates
- Divorce decrees
- Military discharge papers or other proof of military service
- Medical records, including current medication list and immunization records
No. 4: Work With Your Loved One’s Health Care Providers
Make yourself known to them. Don’t hesitate to go with your loved one to his medical appointment to introduce yourself to his doctor.
“You will be dealing with many different providers who don’t talk to each other,” Wilson says. Set yourself up as the point-person who’s working with them, he says.
Learn as much as you can about your relative or friend’s condition. “Ask the doctor questions. Ask for a handout or article about the condition. It’s well within your right to do that,” Pippen says.
Local caregiver organizations or foundations that specialize in specific diseases also offer information.
No. 5: Ask for Help
You can’t do this all alone.
“You have to request specific help,” Pippen says. “People want to help, but they don’t know how. Or we assume people will just step in, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Keep a list with you of all the tasks that need to be done to care for your loved one, such as pick up prescriptions, drive him to church, or prepare his meals. When friends and family say,”Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” ask them if they can take one of the chores on your list.
Some web sites, such as Lotsa Helping Hands, help you manage your tasks and let friends sign up to help.
No. 6: Learn About Community Resources
For starters, look for adult day care centers, transportation services, volunteer companionship programs, and Meals on Wheels. An online search for “local senior services” will go a long way. You may also want to contact your local senior center or county Office of Aging.
“Let them know your specific situation, and they can point you towards services and resources you might need,” Pippen says.
No. 7: Take Care of Yourself
“It can be hard to take care of yourself when everything is not in place for the person you’re caring for,” Pippen says, “But it’s so important.”
Include a break for yourself each week on the list of tasks that others can help with. Ask a friend, neighbor, or relative to come sit with your loved one while you take a little time off.
Some charitable and commercial organizations offer respite services or grants that allow caregivers to take breaks ranging from a few hours to a few days.
Stay current on your own doctors’ appointments. Be sure to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. These things can fall by the wayside when you’re caring for someone.
“Make sure that you’re still participating in the things you enjoy,” Pippen says.
Get the emotional support you need, too. Many online and in-person groups offer support for caregivers.
Caring for an aging loved one is hard work for sure. Try not to lose sight of your relationship with your loved one in the midst of all the tasks involved.
“There’s a lot of joy in caregiving,” Wilson says, “if we just remember that what we ultimately want is to stay connected with this person that we are caring for.”
By Sonya Collins
Reviewed By Jennifer Robinson, MD
Nancy Wilson, MSW, Assistant Director, Huffington Center on Aging, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
Tiffany Pippen, MSW, family consultant, Family Care Alliance, San Francisco.
© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.