As we all get older, more and more of us find ourselves caring for aging and ailing loved ones. While this is often parents it can also be siblings and other relatives.
But how many people are actually taking on this role, and who are they?
Well, in 2009 an estimated 29% of Americans (roughly 65.7 million people including 31% of households) were family caregivers. Additionally, this responsibility is more often taken on by women (anywhere between 53% – 68%), and female caregivers, on average, spend 4 ½ more hours per week giving care than do their male counterparts (1).
Many first-time caregivers find themselves overwhelmed not only by the logistics of it all but also by the emotional shift that happens between themselves and the ones they care for. Being a caregiver is not easy, but it doesn’t have to induce crippling anxiety, or even close.
While there are a plethora of free resources, here are a few we recommend starting with on AARP’s website. They have an entire portion of their website dedicated and organized around family caregiving which you can access here: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/ .
On their website, we particularly like their “Prepare to Care Planning Guide” which you can download for free here: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/new-caregivers-rules.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-BAS-R2-C2
This guide gives a great overview but we especially like the checklists and information trackers they provide in the back.
As much as we like these resources and urge you to explore them, we found it overwhelming just researching all this (let alone having to apply it to our lives and our families). We want to distill some of the topics we found to be most consistent across sources in order to provide a few key items to anchor you in this process.
Have a candid conversation with your aging parent and your family.
Communication is the key to staying happy and healthy throughout this process. It is important to sit down and talk with the individual about what they realistically need help with, but also what they want to see happen.
Make sure that, where they can, they stay involved with any discussion about their care and any decisions being made.
And keep your family in the loop! Whether you are taking on the role of primary caregiver or not, make sure there is a conversation about the roles that your spouse and your siblings should be playing in this. If you have other dependents (such as children or even employees), it is important to be upfront about the situation and how that might affect your availability at home.
We know these conversations can be hard and it could be worth having a professional facilitator or therapist present to mediate between different parties. Here is an article from AARP about how to begin the process of assessing your relative’s situation: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2017/assessment.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-BAS-R2-C1 . As well as one about managing relationships among a team of caregivers: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/life-balance/info-2018/siblings-competing-for-control.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-CLB-R2-C3 .
Review, understand, and adjust healthcare, insurance, and coverage issues.
Health issues and medical costs are a big part of aging and understanding where your loved one is getting support from (and in what form) is integral to being prepared for what can be some scary moments. To effectively navigate insurance and coverage for an individual you must first understand the needs arising from their health issues and concerns.
Here is a guide to the questions you should be asking at doctor’s appointments: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/health/info-2017/questions-to-ask-doctor.html . And here, if they are currently eligible, or for when they become so, is a good resource on understanding Medicare: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/medicare-basics.html .
Create a financial profile.
It is important to get a full and detailed picture of the individual’s finances. How much income are they getting and from where is it coming? How much of it is taxable, how much of it is fixed?
Sources to look for are Social Security, Pensions, Survivor Benefits from both of these sources, IRA distributions, investments accounts, Roth IRA accounts, or even earned income from property investments and the like.
For more on becoming a fiduciary and navigating your loved one’s finances, click here: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/managing-someone-elses-money.html?intcmp=AE-CAR-LEG-R2-C1 . We also wanted to bring this survey about national costs of care in the United States: https://www.genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html .
Visit an estate lawyer.
Estate lawyers do a lot more than just review a will, which can be a hugely uncomfortable conversation to have with an aging parent, but one that absolutely needs to happen. Your parent’s estate plan should be updated to be in line with current personal circumstances.
The other pressing legal matter is ensuring a power of attorney is in place.
You should secure a durable Financial and Healthcare Power of Attorney for yourself or for the individual(s) who will be responsible for these functions. These are two separate documents and each is critical in its own right.
For more on estate planning click here: https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/financial-legal/info-2017/wills-trusts.html
Build a support network.
During this process, keeping lines of communication open between all parties involved is imperative. You will get overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed. That’s okay; this isn’t easy.
When you do, it is important for both your, and your loved one’s, health that you have a support system to turn to.
You should be able to smoothly pass the ball to a sibling, or even an adult child or spouse. Having an external community of fellow caregivers can be an important space to talk about what you are going through and your experiences. A good place to start the search for a support group could be your local hospital. Even if they don’t have a group that meets there, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
The Administration for Family Living (click here for their website https://acl.gov/programs/support-caregivers/national-family-caregiver-support-program ) runs a national support system for family caregivers among other national programs.
This is not a process you have to go through alone and there are lots of resources out there to make sure you don’t have to.
There is more to being a caregiver than we could ever cover in one blog post, but we hope that this gives you a place to start.
If you have any questions, or suggestions and recommendations we can make to other clients, please contact us.
*This article is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subjects covered. It is not, however, intended to provide specific legal, tax, or other professional advice. For specific professional assistance, the services of an appropriate professional should be sought.