I recently saw an interview with Maria Shriver and Rob Lowe talking about how he was blindsided by his aging parents’ care needs. As Ms. Shriver says, this is a subject that affects just about everyone and deserves a national conversation.
Despite having been an estate and elder care attorney for more than thirty years, I, too, was stunned by the planning I needed to do in anticipation of the elder care journey for my own parents.
Eldercare includes everything from caring for a parent’s personal needs to also tending to all the other “stuff,” such as doctor visits, finances, emergencies, mail, groceries, nutrition, pets and much more. Eldercare generally lasts several years as a parent or relative ages, and, depending on your situation, the eldercare role can become more or less time consuming as the person grows older. Whether or not you’re actually the one providing care, being prepared with the necessary information and documents in hands will make your journey a whole lot less stressful.
Here are a few suggestions to help prepare for some of the most important things you should do when starting your parents’ eldercare journey:
Conduct a Safety Check
The 2 most common causes of seniors having to go to the hospital are medicine mismanagement and falls. Doing a safety check of both their medicine management and their fall risks can save a lot of grief and trouble.
Complete a Detailed Medicine List for Your Parent(s)
If they are not able to communicate what medicines they are taking (or should be taking) to emergency personnel and medical providers, they may be misdiagnosed (or worse). Additionally, be familiar with why they are taking each drug and what illness each drug is designed to treat. Many seniors have multiple doctors, and it is not uncommon for medicines to counteract each other when doctors do not have access (or do not carefully review) what has already been prescribed by other medical professionals.
Have “The Talk” With Your Parents
Make time to sit down and talk (well before memory problems might arise) to communicate with them about their wants, needs, financial resources, health issues, and end of life decisions and more. You may have to do this more than once, be persistent and supportive so that their choices and needs are clear and understood by everyone.
Have Legal Documents Prepared
Have important legal, financial and health care documents (wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health directives) prepared, updated or reviewed way in advance of possible health and cognitive issues, particularly if your parents are beginning to show increasing health issues. Why is it so important to do these documents ahead of time?
Older/outdated documents may not be accepted by many financial companies or government agencies. Additionally, if memory issues or diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s mean that your parent is “incompetent” to make their own decisions, it is too late for them to sign the documents that will help you to help them. Make sure you can have access to information and documentation when you need it. For example, many professionals, either by law or by company policies, will not talk to anyone that is not authorized. Also, important and necessary documentation kept in a safe deposit box will be worthless if they are needed when the bank is closed or if you are not authorized to access the box. Access to information and documentation is the key to the eldercare lockbox.
Review Financial Statements, Income and Expenses
Anticipating future costs can help prevent them from outliving their money and being forced to go without the care that they need or in transferring the cost to their children. Make sure that their income and assets allow flexibility to access resources as their care needs change.
Know Your Care Options Ahead of Time
Research and determine what care providers and living situations your parent is comfortable with in advance. Determine where they would like to go when being admitted to a hospital, rehab center, nursing home, board and care facility, assisted living community, independent living community, memory care community, home care company and even hospice, beforehand. This will save everyone a lot of stress during a financial or medical crisis.
Allow Supervised Independence
Finally, it is definitely possible to respect your parent’s independence while also being supportive and ready to help them to manage their needs as they age. Seniors often value their independence above all but in most cases, a trusted family member who has the elder’s needs as a priority can be the key to avoiding fraud, overspending on care due to poor planning and other pitfalls.
One last piece of advice: Stay on your toes! This eldercare challenge is a moving target. You must be alert and ask questions. Do not accept answers that do not make sense to you. You are your parent’s only real advocate.
After watching thousands of families struggle through this process, I created a book and accompanying guide that takes out all the guesswork for families starting their eldercare journey by packing all the necessary information into one place. Whether you go it alone or use a resource like my books, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead.