While every situation providing care for an aging parent is unique, one truism is that preparation is crucial to success. Whether you need basic information about eldercare resources and services, are looking for a local agency to provide those services, or have worries about legal documents or how to finance your parents’ care needs now or in the future, the time to begin planning is today.
The American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and television program distributor provides an online handbook, Caring for Your Parents, that offers good preparedness strategies. These planning strategies, links, and tools are also transferable for spousal care, other elderly relatives, or caring for a loved one who is chronically or critically ill with significant ongoing needs. The PBS handbook, designed by WGBH Educational Foundation and the MIT Workplace Center, addresses a wide variety of situations and is even appropriate when considering your own needs as you age.
In terms of an aging parent, it all begins with an open and honest conversation. You might be fortunate and know your parents are well prepared for their future, but most Americans will face situations where loved ones will require additional help and resources. If your parents have a solid aging plan with proper legal documents and financial backing, know that you can access that paperwork and account information.
If there is no plan in place, talk with your parents about future changes with appropriate family members. Take small steps to prevent overwhelming your parents, listen carefully, and be prepared for some denial. Discuss living at-home safety, bringing in outside services and caregivers into their home. Also, broach assisted living or nursing homes and if your parents’ have a valid will and health care proxy. Define their healthcare and living needs for the present and the future.
When locating services remember all eldercare is ultimately local, and services vary widely among states and regions. If you care for your elder parent but do not live nearby, look for resources in the state and neighborhood where your loved one lives. Be persistent; no one resource has all the answers. You may receive advice that something cannot happen when in fact, it can. Request an “Information and Referral” (I&R) specialist. These specialists have the proper training to answer a wide range of questions and connect you to services.
Much of your search will be on the internet. Your search can be overwhelming as there is so much information about eldercare, so be sure to use trustable sites for data. The PBS Caring for Your Parents Handbook’s links can specifically help navigate eldercare services and information complexities, whether the needs be moderate or significant.
Aside from identifying and using eldercare services, the Handbook contains information about finances, legal issues, insurance, home care, housing and transportation, health care, activities, and strategies for caregiver wellness. You can cross-reference data you uncover using the AARP online forums, where people share experiences, ask and answer questions, and learn from each other. Or use the AARP search tool entering phrases like “caring for your aging parent” for articles, books, and guides that you can compare with the PBS Handbook.
When establishing a care plan for your aging parents, realize that good intentions can quickly derail without legal documents in place permitting you to make decisions on their behalf. The quality of life and end-of-life care your parents receive is inextricably linked to proper legal documentation. When making plans and acquiring eldercare services, be certain to speak with an elder law attorney who can provide an overview of the aging process from a legal perspective and identify your parents’ specific needs. Health care proxies and living wills will enable you to make decisions based on your parents’ beliefs, values, and wishes when they are no longer able to decide for themselves.
As elder law attorneys, we consult with families on both care and legal needs of family members as the two are closely related and should be considered together. If you would like to discuss your particular needs, we would be honored to speak with you.
— By Cara M. Chittenden, attorney at Geyer Law