Seniors are enjoying longer (and often livelier) lives, but there comes a time when most of us need a little help navigating daily activities and responsibilities. Often children step up to provide at least some caregiving for parents.
A report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP reveals the number of family caregivers increased by 9.5 million between 2015-2020. The rising number of caregivers means helpful resources are more important than ever.
The Need for Advance Planning
Life doesn’t always go as planned. A single, unexpected event can thrust you into the caregiver role in a matter of minutes. When a parent suffers a debilitating stroke, fall or other life-altering medical crisis, you may be forced to make stressful, on-the-spot decisions. The most important step you can take right now is to talk with your parent about their wishes should a health crisis arise. Knowing your loved one’s wishes will be carried out offers peace of mind and eliminates spur of the moment decisions.
What to Do
- Have “the talk.” Ask the tough questions and understand your parents may not feel the way you do about certain issues.
- Allow time to investigate options and include all parties in the decision-making process. Encourage family members to be open and honest about their wishes and what they would be willing and able to do should the need arise. Guides such as this AARP Caregiving Guide are helpful in preparing for the caregiving journey.
- Don’t assume you will be able to make medical or legal decisions for your parents should they become incapacitated. The best way to ensure your loved one’s wishes – both medical and financial – are carried out is to establish legal documents, such as advanced directives, wills and trusts.
Finding Help after Hospitalization
Hospital stays are shorter these days, and some patients are just not ready to return home without support. Bringing mom or dad home too soon can mean additional burden on you as a caregiver and increases the risk of a fall and injury.
What to Do
- Make your concerns known to your doctor and the hospital social worker or discharge planner before returning home
- If your parent has specific needs, consider inpatient rehabilitation. Patients receive physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy three hours a day, five days a week, along with 24-hour nursing care and frequent physician visits. This can bridge the gap between hospital and home and help your parent regain independence and re-build strength.
- For help after returning home, home health care offers a wide range of services from assistance with chores or tasks to nursing care and therapies.
Financial Management Issues
Some parents find it difficult to share financial information and lay out a plan, but having this important conversation early on can prevent future problems. Declining cognitive function can lead to bad financial decisions and poor money management. The elderly are also easy targets for financial scams. Some common signs your parent needs assistance in this area include unopened mail, overdue bill notices, duplicate bill paying, excessive charity donations or collection letters.
What to Do
- Consider setting-up automatic bill paying
- Keep your loved one’s finances separate from your own and maintain clear records
- Gather financial documents and keep a list of assets such as income from pensions, Social Security, stocks, bonds, etc.
- Ask about adding your name to bank accounts as a joint account holder
- Discuss obtaining a financial power of attorney, which allows an individual to act on behalf of someone else in financial manners
- Consult an elder law attorney to draft legal documents and determine whether seniors qualify for Medicaid or other financial help
- Remain vigilant in monitoring finances and report fraud
Help with Meal Preparation
Nutrition is a major concern for the elderly. Poor nutrition can lead to health problems such as muscle loss, weakened immune system and exacerbation of chronic conditions. While it is easy to understand the need for healthy meals, preparing them day in and day out is a challenge.
What to Do
- Consider a meal delivery service. Most offer packages that allow you to choose the number of meals you receive each week. Some services, such as Mom’s Meals, may be covered by Medicare or Medicaid.
- Meals on Wheels is a network of independently run local programs. They can be found in most areas of the U.S. and provide seniors with a nutritious meal, a friendly visit and a safety check.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers food and nutrition programs for those 60 and over on limited incomes
Extra Help for Seniors and Caregivers
There are numerous resources available to the elderly, along with support for you as a caregiver, but the trick is knowing where to look. Finding trusted caregiving assistance and support is vital to success.
What to Do
- Many of the issues caregivers struggle with—from transportation and caregiving help to caregiving education and support in your area—are addressed at the Administration on Aging and its partner agencies at Eldercare
- Resources for caregivers is also available from Health and Human Services
- Information on the various federal, state and local programs specific to seniors is listed at Benefits check-up
No matter how devoted you are to taking care of your loved ones, caregiving is a difficult job, and you should never do it alone. Look for affordable options and include family, friends, support groups and outside assistance. Accept help when offered and don’t let the responsibilities of caregiving consume your life. Most of all, don’t judge yourself too harshly. Perfection isn’t an option, just do the best you can do.