You have a moral obligation to care for your parents, spouse and children. To do this well, you need to be informed, plan ahead, and take care of yourself first. The earlier the better.

In our love story, the family asked for advice early enough in the disease process where they were able to do some planning. The family’s only real mistake was not catching the caregiver stress earlier. They did avoid that tragedy, however. Learning about Laura’s Alzheimer’s disease was a panic-free process, and they were able to take care of her until the absolute end.

Mike created an estate plan to avoid the probate process making after-death asset transitions easier. Because of the planning, they had a chance to enjoy their lives a little more, despite the diseases, and ensured they received care and a chance for all family members to gain closure. Even with all that happened to them, this it was still extremely difficult. They did the right thing by putting the healthy family members first so those healthy family members could care for the sick ones more effectively. As a result, they were able to ensure Laura had better care. This is what this Guiding Principle is about.

Families should:

Become informed. Most people haven’t gone through the elder care process before. There are a lot of moving parts in providing elder care, so the more you know about your elder’s health, doctors, treatment options, living situation, and legal and financial life, the better you’ll be able to make the right choices for your loved one.

Plan ahead. While it’s always nice to plan ahead, it is not always possible if you have your children and parents to look after. However, you have the ability to plan ahead—even for emergencies. You’ll need to decide where your loved one will live both short term and long term, what medical and everyday care they will need in order to be independent, get their legal documents in order so you can speak for them without going to court, and accommodate any special family dynamics you have.

Take care of yourself first. Elder care requires an incredible amount of work. If you don’t pay attention to yourself, the strain you experience will decrease both your effectiveness and your ability to make wise decisions. In addition, because of this strain, you won’t even know it. If you’re not both physically and mentally healthy, you won’t be able to provide your loved one with the care they deserve.

Checklist: Guiding Principle One

(Put no one else before you and your family)

Becoming Informed:

1. Learn the lay of the land. Depending on needs, you should learn about:

a. Caregiving needs and options

b. General medical practitioners with extensive geriatric experience

c. Options on where to live (at home, independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled

nursing)

d. Find an elder law attorney to educate you and your family about the choices you will need to make in planning for long-term care, disability and avoiding Probate and to help with the documentation necessary to put your choices into practice.

e. If appropriate, find a financial planner to help you create a stronger stream of income from your investments and retirement accounts

f. Find an accountant to help you find additional income tax deductions (including those that give you credit for medical expenses and long-term care expenses) so you have more money left over to use to produce a stream of income.

Plan Ahead:

2. Areas in which to Plan Ahead

a. Living Arrangements – Know when to stay in the home and when to move to another place. You do not need to have a place picked out unless placement is imminent (facilities change frequently—but knowing the types of places that are available will be helpful in reducing stress later).

b. Medical care – Be able to speak with your loved one’s medical doctor and have your loved one sign HIPAA information release forms so that you can get access to their private medical information when you need it, and so that you understand the everyday care and medications your loved one needs.

c. Legal documents – Without powers of attorney for property/finance, you will have no access to your loved one’s money to pay bills and expenses. Without healthcare powers of attorney, or other medical advanced directives, you will have no access to your loved one’s medical records or be able to direct medical professionals in your loved one’s care, especially in cases in which they cannot direct the care themselves.

d. Family Dynamics – If you have a dysfunctional family unit, get some help and set up your legal documents so that the appropriate family member (or independent professional/trustee) has the power of manage finances and health. If you think there may be a family fight or abuse, find a way to mediate problems ahead of time, or just hunker down and wait for the storm.

Take Care of Yourself First:

3. This is going to be rough. If you cannot take care of yourself, you will not be an effective caregiver.

a. Seek help from professionals including getting a geriatric assessment of your loved one. (see principle two) This will provide a “map” of what you need to do.

b. Try to get help from everyone else too (friends, family, neighbors)

c. Don’t not try to do the impossible

d. Watch your physical health

e. Get adequate sleep

f. Do not give up your life to provide caregiving

g. Get a therapist or counselor to help you manage stress and guilt

Most people haven’t gone through the elder care process before. There are a lot of moving parts in providing elder care, so the more you know about your elder’s health, doctors, treatment options,living situation, and legal and financial life, the better you’ll be able to make the right choices for your loved one.

Copyright © 2014 by Ben Neiburger. All rights reserved.