All major life transitions require preparation and adaptation. Graduation, moving into your first apartment, landing your first job, getting married, having kids, changing careers, retiring — each of these life events typically comes with a lot of planning.
Becoming a caregiver for an aging parent, however, is an event that takes many people by surprise.
Sometimes, there’s a sudden health crisis like a stroke or a deteriorating chronic condition. Other times, the turning point is a long time coming, but is obscured by denial.
Many of the 65 million Americans who provide care for a loved one wish they could go back and take more time to prepare. They wish they had known which questions to ask, which steps to take, and how to best assess the situation so that they could guarantee the best quality of life for their parents and themselves.
Are you up for the job?
If you’re considering taking on a caregiver role, your first step needs to be an honest assessment of what support you can realistically provide. You need to consider logistical matters such as
- financial flexibility
- physical capability
- skill level
But also, you must consider your emotional capacity to handle what can be a stressful situation.
You should also give some thought to how taking on caregiver responsibilities will affect other relationships in your life.
Examples of the kinds of questions you might ask yourself include:
- How much time do you have available on a regular basis?
- How will becoming a caregiver affect the time you spend on other parts of your life?
- Is your working situation flexible enough to accommodate the additional responsibilities of care giving?
- Where can you reduce other responsibilities in your life?
- Do you have the skills necessary to provide the kind of care that’s needed?
While your initial response might be to just do whatever needs to be done to ensure your parent’s well being, it’s important to step back and ask the hard questions that will help you determine if becoming a caregiver is the best solution for everyone involved.
Perhaps even more difficult than asking yourself hard questions is sitting down with your parent for a frank and personal conversation about what lies ahead. In the best-case scenario, you will cover a range of topics to ensure that you are as prepared as possible for any eventuality.
Having advanced directives in place allows you and your parent to specify wishes in case of a medical emergency.
- A living will helps to clearly define your parent’s preferences if they are unable to speak for themselves.
- In addition, though they may be difficult to discuss, having a health-care proxy and — if it’s what your parent wants — a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order in place are important elements of a proactive plan.
It’s traumatic enough to see your parent endure any kind of medical crisis, but even more so if you also have to bear the burden of making critical decisions without the benefit of knowing your parent’s wishes.
Likewise, getting up to speed on your parent’s entire financial situation is an important step that will help avoid confusion and inconvenience later on.
In addition to having a firm grasp of your parent’s overall financial situation including assets (real estate, stocks, bank accounts, and any other valuables such as might be stored in a safe deposit box), you also need have detailed knowledge of insurance policies and coverage. Make sure that you have access to and the authority to manage all the relevant accounts in case of an emergency.
On a related note, it’s critical to have early conversations about how to handle the disposition of various assets in preparation for potential developments that might require applying for Medicaid or some other benefit that will be granted based on financial need. Talking to one of our Connecticut elder law attorneys who can provide guidance on the best way to preserve your parent’s financial assets can make a world of difference.
Remember to get support for yourself
Finally, it’s of the utmost importance that you take the time to explore all the support resources available to you. Caring for an elderly parent is not an easy task. The demands of managing the day-to-day care are only one aspect of the responsibility.
On top of those tasks, there are the complexities of dealing with insurance companies, healthcare professionals, and other groups and individuals. Failing to take care of your own needs will put you at risk for physical and mental burn out.
Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Even if you don’t have friends or family who are willing and able to lend a hand, there are many support groups, state resources, and even national organizations and online communities that can help you navigate your experience and provide logistical and emotional support.
Amidst all this assessment and documentation and other preparation, it’s also important to acknowledge that transitioning a parent from independence to an assisted living arrangement — even one where the care is provided at home by a relative — is a difficult journey for both the parent and the caregiver.
As much as your life is changing, so is your parent’s. Try to be patient with your loved one and with yourself.
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