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Throughout life’s journey, we prepare for just about every big milestone – buying a house, getting married, becoming a parent, saving for college, enjoying retirement – and we benefit from that time spent learning and preparing. However, we are rarely given that same grace period to adequately prepare and train ourselves for becoming a caregiver to an aging parent – because it’s a role often thrust upon family members with little warning.

Preparation is essential for avoiding crisis planning and for preventing some of the stress that stems from pressured legal, financial, and health care-decisions. Think of it as the difference between cramming for that final exam versus studying for it throughout the semester.

There are many formal Caregiving 101 courses available to family members – and your local hospital or AARP office can likely point you toward good options. In the meantime, here are some “study guide” tips that can help you get started today.

Don’t Wait – Have the Conversation Early (and Often)

Ask your parents “what if” questions to explore their wishes and feelings about aging. Start with the easier questions, such as how long would they like to work or how do they picture their senior years. Keep the conversation going – over days, weeks, or months – and you can work your way up to asking the more difficult questions. They can include how finances are handled, their ideal living situation, and thoughts about what type of caregiving help they envision.

Respect Your Parent’s Autonomy
As you get more deeply involved, it can be challenging to walk the line between your desire to help and your loved one’s desire (and need) to maintain autonomy and control. Remember that your parents are still your parents – and even loved ones with dementia can often give valuable input about their wishes. Lead with empathy (e.g., “I want to understand your feelings on…”) versus admonishment or command (e.g., “You should start…”) Ask open-ended questions, listen to answers, and be patient, respectful and compassionate.

Collect Key Information

As you assume greater responsibility for your loved one’s care, it will be helpful to have access to important information about his or her health and finances. If possible, make copies of insurance policies, Social Security benefits, Medicare coverage, housing documents, retirement and bank statements. Compile a list of doctors’ names and contact information, as well as current medications and conditions.

Prepare Necessary Legal Documents

As your parents age, it becomes increasingly important for them to complete and regularly update legal documents, providing clear instructions should they become unable to communicate. These documents can help prevent disagreements among family members and ensure that your loved one’s wishes are fully honored.

These documents include:

  • Last Will and Testament – provides for the transfer of property after a loved one passes away
  • Durable Power of Attorney (POA) – allows chosen family member to make medical, financial, and legal decisions for incapacitated loved ones
  • Living Wills / POLST (Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) Form – communicates end-of-life health care wishes

Make plans to discuss these legal documents and decisions with your parents and a qualified attorney.

Create a Team

The emotional and logistical complexity of caring for an aging parent can overwhelm even the most dedicated and loving caregiver. Work with your parents, or your loved one, to build your support team, which includes current doctors and professionals providing health-care services, lawyers, and financial advisors. If there are any gaps in the team, identify the appropriate “expert” to fill that gap. These experts may include geriatric care managers, home health-care aides, or companions.

At W. R. Borton & Associates, our team is happy to be a part of your team, and we know that it’s never too early to begin planning or too late to ask for assistance. The role of the caregiver is rarely without challenges, but the right preparation, the right team, and a compassionate mindset will help support you on this journey with your loved ones.