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Journey of Caregiver

How to Prepare to be a Caregiver

adult child woman explaining something on tablet to elderly mother smiling

“My neighbor’s mother moved in with them recently, after having a stroke. They’re trying to take care of her while juggling their careers and raising teenage kids. It’s made me start thinking about what I’d do if my mom suddenly needed that kind of care. I don’t know how I’d handle it – and I have no idea where to even start.”

Many families are caught off guard when an aging parent suddenly gets ill, is seriously injured in a fall, has a heart attack or stroke, or is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. A recent survey found that while two-thirds of caregivers end up being women, 54% of American women feel ill-prepared to take care of their aging parents.

And parents themselves aren’t terribly prepared either. At least one-third of older adults say they’ve not planned at all for their long-term care needs.

Talking About the Future

Seventy-seven percent of older Americans say they’d prefer to receive care in their own home. And 67% say they want that care to come from a family member. But not all family members are on board with those expectations. That’s why it’s so important to have a series of family conversations before a crisis occurs.

There are a lot of options for long-term senior care. You and your parents need to talk about what those options are, what they prefer and what’s most realistic for everyone. What are some of those options?

  • Senior living communities offer a range of possibilities. Some are focused on assisted living and/or memory care exclusively, while others offer a full continuum of care right on campus. You can also find communities that allow non-residents to take advantage of short-term rehabilitation after an illness or surgery. Your parents may balk at the idea of a senior living community, thinking they’re just “old folks’ homes.” But if you do some research together, you’ll find that today’s communities offer robust lifestyles that help seniors live better and provide the security of knowing they’ll have the care they need, whenever they need it.
  • Home health aides are an option for providing care in your parents’ home. While these services can be ideal for some, not everyone is comfortable with someone they don’t know taking care of them. The costs of home health services can also add up – the national median cost is just over $4,000 per month. Discussing personal preferences and financial feasibility is important.
  • Family caregiving is provided by about 40 million Americans. The average family caregiver spends 24.4 hours per week providing care, and nearly 1 in 4 spends 41 hours or more caregiving. And while caregiving has plenty of emotional, physical and financial challenges, 86% of caregivers say it’s a rewarding experience. It’s not for everyone, so be sure you and your family understand what it means – and what it costs – for you to be their designated caregiver.

Not sure how to start having these conversations? Download Tackling the Topic, a guide to helping you navigate these talks with your parents.

Getting Practically Prepared

If you and your family decide caregiving is the way to go, you can take some practical steps to get ready for whenever that day comes.

Finances. You and your parents need to understand the financial realities of caregiving.

  • Talk about what it costs for them to stay in their current house. Even if the mortgage is paid off, it’s not free. Will they be able to afford to stay where they are?
  • Make sure you know what your parents’ insurance will cover. Be aware that long-term care insurance and Medicare/Medicaid don’t pay for everything.
  • 78% of caregivers incur out-of-pocket expenses as a result of caregiving – sometimes that adds up to thousands of dollars. While you can claim a parent as a dependent and take medical tax deductions for their care, you need to be sure you know how you’re going to help cover upfront expenses. If you have siblings, can they help pay for care?

Legal Issues. Making sure certain legal protections are in place will help the whole family if a crisis arises.

  • A power of attorney for health care or mental health care designates who can make health decisions on behalf of your parents.
  • A living will lets family and physicians know what your parents’ wishes are for medical treatment.
  • A financial power of attorney designates someone to make financial decisions on their behalf.
  • A digital power of attorney lets another person manage digital assets like social media accounts, websites, email accounts, online access to banking, investments or credit cards.

To help your family make these arrangements, you can get your state’s advanced directive planning forms here.

Documentation. It’s also important that you can identify and find other documents you’ll need as a primary caregiver. Medical records, insurance information, identity records, financial assets – having this information at your fingertips will make your job a lot easier. You can use the National Caregiver Library’s Caregiver Document Organizer to get started.

Family caregiving should be a family conversation. Bring siblings into the process early on. Talk about all the options and how you can work together to be ready to provide the care your parents need when the time comes.

Sources:

Americans Speak on Long-Term Care and Alzheimer’s Disease

Long-term Care in America: Expectations and Preferences for Care and Caregiving

2017 Genworth Cost of Care Survey

Family Caregiving and Out-of-Pocket Costs: 2016 Report

Legal Preparations for Caregiving

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Journey of Caregiver

Help, perspective and hope for the primary caregivers of older loved ones.

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