I was the primary adult family caregiver for my parents for five years. My journey ended last Christmas when my mom passed away. I know I will be moving through a grieving process for many years to come, but was happy that her life with dementia ended. It’s a nasty disease that steals away our loved ones bit-by-bit.
I learn by doing and used this blog to chronicle many of my lessons in hopes that it may help others. One of the valuable resources you should be able to find in your community is a Life Care Manager (formerly referred to as a Geriatric Care Manager). They are usually nurses or social workers by training and have layers of additional education and practical experience required to earn this designation. Aging Life Care™ is a holistic, client-centered approach to caring for older adults or others facing ongoing health challenges. To find one in your area, you can visit the Aging Life Care Association.
Looking back, I could have called them in to help more and should have. There wee blocks of time when every visit to see mom was filled with medical follow-ups. I would have preferred to just visit mom and be her daughter than try to run down a host of issues from getting her toe-nails trimmed to a concerns about some intermittent dizziness she was experiencing.
The three times I recommend you consider hiring an Aging Life Care Manager include:
When your loved one ends up in the hospital. There were a few visits to the ER for mom in the last year of her life. I called in help when mom broke her hip and to operate, the doctor was demanding I lift the DNR. It was complicated, and the Aging Life Care Manager helped me navigate my choices and fulfill my mother’s wishes.
When you just want to be the daughter, son, or spouse. As you have already learned, there is so much you don’t know about a medical condition they may have or the way nurses, doctors, and community health services work, that I recommend bringing them in to just manage the medical needs.
If you are in the DC-metro area, I am happy to provide a referral to some wonderful Aging Life Care managers. Recommended.
A call after 10:00 PM never brings good news. My mom found my dad on the floor and asked me what she should do. I told her to call 911 and I’d meet her at the hospital. During intake we were asked for medical history, medications, and details about my dad’s health that neither my mom nor I could confidently provide. Sadly, my dad just had one drink too many and had passed out. My parents were both in generally good health, but this first event was a wake-up call and I realized I wasn’t prepared to be the advocate my parents might need one day.
When I got a call from the Emergency Room (ER) about my dad the second time, I was well prepared. After his first visit, I realized that even though the hospital had electronic medical records for him, the medical team will turn to family to understand medical history, medications, and complaints. They don’t have (or take) the time to read the records they already have. This time my dad had broken his hip playing racquetball and was going to need surgery.
After the first visit to the ER, I made notes on my dad’s medical history and medications and I started to carry copies of both my parents’ durable and medical powers of attorney on my smartphone. The medical power of attorney gives me permission to represent my parents for medical needs and the durable power of attorney gives me the ability to access and make decisions on my parents’ financial assets. Thankfully, my parents had done their estate planning and told me where I could find these papers should they be needed. Having this completed before it was needed made a huge difference for me as their adult child when I needed to step in and help.
Apparently many Americans aren’t prepared or planning for an early retirement or ready when a crisis strikes. A 2014 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 49 percent of retirees surveyed had retired earlier than they had planned. The survey found that many Americans find themselves retiring unexpectedly, with 61 percent citing health problems or disability and another 18 percent citing care for a spouse or another family member.
Information is a very powerful tool
Most families are not prepared when they need to step in and help mom or dad in the face of a crisis or medical issue, and the consequences of being unprepared can be severe among families—causing chaos, confusion, and loss of money. Parents may tell you the plans are in the file cabinet or safe, but vague directions can make it stressful to try and locate the documents. More often, you need access to information like medical history and medications as well as information on how to manage the household and pay bills until a parent can get back on their feet. Finding that information can be overwhelming.
Today, more than $56 billion is sitting with state and federal treasurers because family members didn’t know about bank, retirement, and insurance accounts. If mom or dad doesn’t get back on their feet, the accounts sit dormant and eventually get turned over to the proper authorities to hold until claimed.
For all these reasons, starting the conversation with mom and dad is important to begin well before it’s needed. Some ways to begin the dialogue include:
Ask them how they plan on spending their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Where do they want to live and how do they want to spend their time?
Request recommendations on how to approach estate planning. When did they do theirs and how did they decide who should be their advocate if one of them is unable to speak for the other?
Share a story of a friend or colleague who faced a difficult family health issue and talk about how your family might have handled the situation differently.
As you have these discussions, hopefully you will begin to see how your parents view and expect to spend their retirement. With almost half of adults having to retire earlier than expected, and 70 percent of those over 65 years of age needing some form of long-term care, one of the easiest ways to help mom and dad realize they need a plan if they don’t have one in place could mean that you lead by example and share your plans with them first.
The two most important documents for anyone over the age of 18 years are a durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. They are the tools a loved one will have to use to help you while you are living and can be invaluable in the crunch of a medical emergency. Before my son leaves for college we are getting these documents in place. Without a medical power of attorney, even as the parent and one that pays the medical insurance, a doctor is unable to discuss my son’s health with me.
Information is the greatest asset you can provide to those that would step in and help you. I hope you will have a chance to begin the conversation with your parents to understand how they plan to spend the rest of their lives.
Robert Sharpe, host of Bringing Inspiration to Earth radio show, interviewed me about my journey to care for my parents. He focused in on the key topic I regularly evangelize — which is getting your documents, accounts and assets in order.
Did you know that Consumer Reports found 7 out of 10 couples didn’t know about or how to access the MAJOR financial accounts they shared? We lead busy lives and today our disorganization has already cost American families $58 billion. How much will it cost you?
We talk through some real life stories and discuss why having a durable power of attorney and medical directives are important for everyone over 18. We also go into the how and why these details are most important to ensure you have the life quality you desire.
Download a copy of the Important Documents Summary if you need this information for you or your family. Listen to this podcast for a walk through the list and how and why each item is important. Interviewed.