In my article “Sharing the Care” (May 24, 2014), we said that adult children should have a family meeting to discuss a caregiving plan to make sure that an aging parent is as safe as possible for as long as possible. We also discussed that the absence of such a shared caring plan can lead to sibling resentment that could last the rest of their lives.
This follow-up article will focus on suggestions from Amy Goyer, AARP’s caregiving expert. Ms. Goyer says, “Whether you are caring for a family member or a friend after a hospitalization or health crisis, or you’re gradually increasing support over time, you’ll have less stress and more success if you create a caregiving plan for yourself.”
She suggests that a simple plan gives you practical information, a framework and prospective which raises your comfort and confidence as a caregiver. From an article by Ms. Goyer on the AARP website, here are some key components to include in your plan:
1. Assess your situation
When it comes to caregiving, you might get caught up in the needs of those you are caring for. I advise you to start with looking at your needs, abilities and resources. If you do, you’re more likely to be aware of how much you have to offer and feel good about what you’re doing. You will also be more aware of your strengths and realistic about your limits.
Here are some examples of what to think about:
1. Your Personality — You may be more suited to certain types of caregiving tasks.
2. Your Skills and Abilities — What skills do you have that might be useful in caregiving?You have a lifetime of experience and strengths from cleaning and cooking to nurturing and health care to managing money.
3. Your Interests — What do you do for fun? Can you involve loved ones you care for in your hobbies? Be sure to keep up with some activities that nurture and fulfill you.
4. Your Goals and Priorities — When caregiving, it’s easy to lose sight of your own goals. While your priorities will change and some goals will be postponed, keep sight of your goals in life.
5. Your Family, Friends and Support System — Who depends on you and who supports you? Both emotionally and in practical day-to-day ways.
6. Your Responsibilities — Caregiving does not happen in a vacuum. The rest of life goes on. Consider all that is on your plate. It may illuminate why you feel so overwhelmed at times and make you feel OK about asking for help.
7. Your Health — Caregiving can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. Are you sleeping well? Getting your health screenings and immunizations? Taking medications as prescribed? Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Have you gained or lost weight? Are you exercising?
8. Your Finances and Work — It’s important that you maintain your financial security. Many caregivers spend more and take in less. Are you on track for your retirement savings? Are you paying bills and taxes on time? Does your employer have supportive policies for caregivers?
9. Your CURRENT Caregiving Responsibilities.
After you’ve examined these issues in your life, you’ll be better equipped to make a realistic caregiving plan.
2. Evaluate your loved one’s overall picture
Access their health, social, financial, housing, transportation and other needs, abilities and goals. Such as maintaining or improving health, being able to walk, cook or bathe. Or remaining independent in their homes. They may need help with personal care, or perhaps with managing financing, or socializing with others.
The main goal is often to keep your loved one as independent as possible and in their own home. As your parents have more difficulty getting around or their vision or hearing fades, there are some simple changes that can be made to make the home safe. Handrails, grab bars, night lights and adjustable shower seats can make a house safer and more comfortable for an older loved one.
3. Find the “gaps” in care
List the existing resources available to meet their needs. This would include: (1) people that can help them; (2) financial resources; (3) housing; and (4) existing services they already receive. When you compare the list of unmet needs to existing resources, you’ll have an idea of where the gaps are and what changes are needed to help your loved ones remain safe and achieve their goals.
4. List the things you can realistically do to fill the gaps
Make a list of roles and tasks your loved ones need that you can’t provide. Can you offer ongoing or periodic hands on care? Or do you need to help from a distance? Are you able to address all of their unmet needs? Probably not.
You may need support for your personal and work life to free you up for increased caregiving. And you probably need to build up your caregiving team. List family, friends and community volunteers and paid services to take those on. It’s okay to reach out for extra support; it benefits your parents and you.
If you’ve discovered that the scope of care your parent needs is beyond what you or your team can provide, you can explore the range of home care services available. Some home care workers do housekeeping, meal preparation, laundry, and shopping. Others provide more hands-on help with bathing and dressing.
Or if you’re not sure what is needed, you might consider getting help from an organization in your community. For example, a variety of support services are available to people ages 60 and over and to their caregivers throughout the United States. Your local area agency on aging can help to connect you to services such as home-delivered meals, transportation, adult day services centers, care management, and more.
5. Create a Budget
This can be challenging. Your parents may be hesitant to share the details of their finances or health, but approach them with respect and explain your intentions. Money can be a particularly sensitive subject, but it’s often at the heart of the many decisions you’ll make with your parents about housing, health care and other expenses.
Ask them to review their bank accounts, investments, insurance coverage, and other loans with you. Create a budget with income and expenses associate with your loved one’s care.
Determine if your parents have sufficient funds or other assets that can be used to cover potential care needs.
One thing that caregivers often find surprising is that unless your parents have long-term care insurance, most health insurance, including Medicare, pays for little, if any, of the cost of help with daily activities such as bathing, dressing or eating. If there is not enough to go around, perhaps family members can contribute. If that doesn’t work, consider reverse mortgages, or public benefits such as Medi-Cal and In-Home Supportive Services.
In summary, the plan doesn’t have to be extensive or fancy. You can never anticipate every detail or scenario. The plan should include immediate needs as well as broader plans for the future. Options for addressing needs will depend on finances, the willingness of your support team and the availability of community resources and services.
Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal Planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.