“There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” – Rosalyn Carter
When visiting our loved ones this holiday season, we need to be aware of whether or not they need additional care to maintain their independence. There are clues you can watch for during your visits.
Somethings to watch for include:
- unpaid bills
- environmental disarray
- an empty refrigerator and/or pantry
- limited mobility
- cognitive difficulties
- behavior changes
It is imperative to gather as much information before any incident, accident, or unexpected medical event. It does not have to be all at once. Remember, discretion, sensitivity, and maintenance of your loved one’s autonomy are important to achieve their cooperation in facilitating this process of information gathering.
Carol was a fiercely independent 80+ person who managed all her affairs until an ongoing medical issue hospitalized her. Her son assumed that her life was ending. While hospitalized, he learned that she fell several months behind in credit card debt and rent.
While the landlord was amenable to waiting until Carol recovered, her son emptied her apartment of all her belongings without Carol’s permission. Carol had no say in where her pets, treasured mementos, other possessions would end up. Her son also canceled all her credit cards.
Since Carol no longer had a home to go to, she was placed in a nursing home. Although Carol completely recovered and lived several more years, her life as she knew it was over long before her death because everything she had was “stolen from her.”
Carol’s story is not an isolated instance and happens more often than not.
In this situation, she was not given the dignity or respect of being asked what her wishes were, where her important items were to go, or if she even wanted to leave her home.
When a Social Worker or medical professional calls upon the family, the family is not always vested in the individual’s best interest, as Carol’s story shows. The son failed to explore alternative living arrangements with any professional to get more information or assistance. The experience was traumatic and detrimental to their relationship and made it difficult for Carol to trust or cooperate with her son down the road.
What to do if you see signs that care is needed
It’s best to begin watching for signs while your loved one is still independent. It’s also the perfect time to start talking about future care needs and their desires for handling care.
But what if you’ve already noticed signs that care is needed?
- Tread carefully, do not be offensive or overwhelm your loved one with questions or too many details.
- Set aside time to focus on one item at a time and not “demand” information. Work within their schedule.
- Communicate calmly and with a listening earl; give short direct explanations as needed
- Begin a “Family Member Handbook” that can be easily shared with all necessary people. You can use a secure online document system like SmartVault. The Handbook should include:
- List of doctors and contact information
- List of medications/vitamins with dosage and frequency
- Diagnosis’ and any chronic illnesses.
- Social Worker information
- Copy of Insurance/Medicare cards
- Primary Care Physician & Specialist(s) contact information
- Copy of IDs
- Power Of Attorney
- Sources of Income
- Social Security number, Birth Certificate, Marriage Certificate
- Veterans Benefits information and/or Discharge Papers (DD-214)
- Last three years tax returns with supporting documentation
- Accountant contact information
- Lawyer contact information
- Health Care Proxy
- Banking Information
- Funeral Arrangements
- Hospital Record(s) locations
- Logon information (Usernames/IDs and Passwords)
Situations and concerns are not always predictable, which makes it prudent to start the process of information gathering early before an event arises. No one will have all the answers initially, but basic fact-gathering is a good starting point in all instances. Family members should encourage, support, and facilitate the initiation of fact gathering. to alleviate family stresses, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, and lapses in the care of the individual.