Caring for Aging Loved Ones

Caring for Aging Loved Ones

Did you know that 2.8 million elderly people will be treated in an emergency room for a fall this year? That's one fall every 11 seconds. Sadly, three of them will die from that fall. One every 19 minutes.

It’s safe to say that these are jolting statistics, yet they come from the National Council on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control. Many of you have dealt with elderly loved ones who have fallen. In fact, one in four elderly persons experiences a fall each year. When my grandmother — who has since passed away — told me that she fell out of the bed one night and lay on the floor until morning because she didn’t want to alarm my grandfather, my heart both sank and ached.

There are other health and safety issues with the elderly as well. Perhaps you have heard about or experienced a loved one not taking their medication, neglecting their personal hygiene, not eating, or leaving the stove on or freezers open. Wandering away from home or getting lost is yet another example. In fact, one of my closest friends recently told me of an incident with her dad losing his sense of direction while driving home. He has been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer. These are just a few of the mishaps that can occur.

When a caregiver crisis hits, we are inevitably faced with a barrage of medical, legal, and financial questions, and unfortunately most families are unprepared. Below are a few recommendations to help you create a plan so that you can be assured that care for your loved ones will be handled well.

  1. Make sure your loved ones are getting the care they need. Obtain as much information as you can about your loved one’s medical needs and conditions. Monitor their quality of health, and maintain communication with their care providers. You should also assess your loved one’s biggest concerns and priorities. All of these things are important to understand and get in place right from the beginning.
     
  2. Your caregiving plan must address medical, financial, legal, and personal issues. A good baseline in assessing your loved one's health and medical needs is to review their ability to perform the Activities of Daily Living. These are the basic personal tasks of everyday life — such as dressing, bathing, eating — also called ADLs for short. You should also review insurance policies that your loved one holds to determine what funds might be available to defray the cost of caregiving. In addition, review and update critical legal documents, such as a Power of Attorney, Advanced Healthcare Directive, Wills, and Trusts. Take a look at their finances as well, which includes income taxes, sources of income, recurring expenses, assets, and liabilities. Lastly, look closely at the personal needs of your loved one and what living options appeal to them. In general, everyone wants to stay in their home as long as they possibly can, but when the end of that road comes and something else must happen, be sure to have other options in place.
     
  3. Don’t forget about the caregiver’s needs. Caregiving always impacts the rest of the family, in a big way. There are often demands on the caregiver’s personal and professional life. There can be loss of income plus additional expenses, and they may experience stress at home and disharmony within their own family. If you are, or will likely become, a caregiver, it’s important for you to stay on top of your own health and address your own basic needs.
     
  4. Don’t do it alone. You need a team. A team approach will help you produce the best caregiving plan. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, and putting together all the pieces of the puzzle can be difficult and time-consuming. As you build a team of people who can assist you with creating this plan, you need to include other family members, the loved one needing the caregiver plan, and anyone else who can provide emotional support. Lastly, you definitely want to seek professional advice, which will likely include financial advisors, an estate attorney or other attorneys, insurance experts, CPAs, geriatric care managers, and so on.
     

You can see that caring for the elderly can be extremely complicated, and not planning ahead can bring on an array of difficult and painful experiences for the whole family. Some of your loved ones will have a long, slow, and relatively safe decline. Others will experience quick, shocking episodes of illness and deterioration. It’s imperative that you do all you can to ensure continued and good care for your loved ones by having a comprehensive plan in place.