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What Am I Going to Do Now
Tips for Caregivers

The call comes from the Emergency Room. There has been a fall resulting in a fractured hip. Surgery is scheduled right away and the next few hours, days and weeks become filled with overwhelming emotions as well as confusion, uncertainty and exhaustion.

Most of us are unprepared for the new role thrust upon us as caregivers. We suddenly become responsible to make decisions on matters where we have no experience. On top of the decision-making role, we have to provide daily or even hourly assistance to meet the physical, emotional and medical needs of our parents or spouse. That’s usually when you ask yourself “What am I going to do now?”

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done prior to an emergency to prepare you and your loved one. Planning ahead will help you handle a crisis more effectively and confidently. The key is to provide an elder adult the opportunity to plan for potential problems and make decisions in advance of a stressful event or health crisis. Understanding what the elder desires increases their feeling of control, therefore, reducing their stress and contributing to their overall well being during the crisis. By having the right information at your fingertips and acting on the elder’s behalf, better decisions will be made especially while under considerable emotional stress.

Unfortunately, many elders and their adult children are not talking about the tough issues regarding health, finances, legal paperwork and end of life preferences. We avoid these uncomfortable topics and our loved ones often resist the conversation. However, these discussions are so important to have while everyone is thinking clearly. Here are some steps you can take.

When you approach your parents or loved one, make sure you are speaking with them and not at them. Explain that you want to make plans in advance so if something happens, their choices will be honored. A good place to start is to gather the basic available information that is important in a medical crisis. Social security numbers, birthdates, insurance cards, medical history / conditions, allergies, medications, blood type, and physician contact numbers, should all be gathered. Wills, living wills, powers of attorney (health and financial), organ donor wishes, and advanced directives should be prepared and put somewhere accessible. Copies of these documents should be given to the appropriate family members and legal advisors.

Next, discuss financial matters. Talking about money is never easy but important in determining possible current and future care options. Consider making any financial accounts into joint accounts with appropriate family members or trusted advisors which would make access to those funds much easier should the need arise. It is important to know bank and investment account information including the names and contact information of bankers, stock brokers, insurance brokers or other financial and legal advisors. If there are things that you do not fully understand, consult experts such as financial planners, attorneys (many of whom now specialize in elder care issues), or contact a local community agency such as Council on Aging.

Finally, you will need to discuss end-of-life planning which is very personal and usually based on religious preferences and basic philosophies of life. By taking the time to have a thoughtful discussion, you will be assured that their beliefs and values will be honored.

In some situations, family members may not be the best people to do all of the planning and preparation. Sometimes an elder is more comfortable speaking to an objective advisor outside of the family. If this is the case, do not be offended or let it prevent them from proceeding. The important thing is that they talk to someone. Encourage their participation in planning, but be respectful of their privacy.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide