Taking Care of an Adult Loved One? These are the 3 Things you Absolutely MUST Stay on Top of.
1 out of every 7 Americans take care of an adult loved one, like an ailing spouse or an aging parent. If you’re not taking care of someone today, you soon might, particularly as ‘Baby Boomers’ continue to age into needing care.
For life milestones like the birth of child or the purchase of a home, you can find a wide variety of books, blog, apps, and more that provide you with a step-by-step guide of what to expect. Unfortunately, for the milestone of taking care of an adult loved one, such guidance is few and far between. That’s likely because unlike having a child or purchasing a home –experiences that have relatively predictable stages –the experience of taking care of an adult loved one varies widely from family to family. A 20-year-old son taking care of a 60-year-old parent with Alzheimer’s is likely having a very different experience than a 70-year-old wife taking care of her 70-year-old husband suffering from the exact same disease.
Due to the variability across different ‘caregiving’ experiences, there’s no single prioritization list that will work for all families. That said, there are three pillars of care that –when managed properly –can help you maintain your personal sanity and provide the very best care for your loved one:
PILLAR #1: MEDICAL
This is the obvious one. If you’re taking care of someone who’s ill or aging, you may find yourself scheduling their medical appointments, filling their prescriptions, or performing other medical tasks that they can no longer do themselves. What’s less obvious here is what to prioritize.
If you’re just starting to take care of an adult loved one, it’s critical to:
1.) Get an assessment from a trained medical professional as who can provide a diagnosis for what what’s truly afflicting them. The diagnosis sets the care plan, so getting a diagnosis as soon as possible is an important first step in managing their care. Just keep in mind that patience is needed during this process, as diagnoses can take a while to secure and/or change over time:
Diagnoses can be complicated. It’s not always a one and done experience. There’s a lot of overlap between different conditions, so there’s a rule-out process. It’s pretty common that someone gets diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and then that diagnosis gets converted to Lewy body. With cardiac-related decline like a stroke, we may not know what those long-term cognitive changes are going to be until months after that event, so no diagnosis can be provided during that time. Additionally, an MS diagnosis is a really long process that can take anywhere between 6 months and 5 years. We’re getting better at making Alzheimer’s diagnoses more quickly, but even that’s not a universal experience [getting a quick diagnosis].
–Sherrie All Ph.D., founder of Centers for Cognitive Wellness
2.) Ask your loved one’s medical team for examples of what disease progression has looked like in other patients. Everyone who takes care of someone has the same questions: ‘What can I expect? What will this look like for us?’ So many variables contribute to those answers that physicians are often wary about answering questions like those outright, to the frustration of families. However, you can often get valuable information by asking a clinician more targeted questions based on past clinical data like: ‘Looking back at other ALS patients, what did their disease progression look like during the first year? How long did they live after diagnosis?’ These are questions that clinicians can answer, providing you with value-adding data that you can use as your family navigates your own caregiving journey.
3.) Start conversations with your loved one early about how they prefer to be taken care of. This is easier said than done. Few of us are eager to engage in conversations about our declining health and mortality. That said, there are techniques to help facilitate conversations like these, which we cover in our other post.
PILLAR #2: FINANCIAL
If you’re taking care of someone, you’ll likely spend more than $7,200 per year of your own money financing their care. That’s more than the average family spends on food. Most of that will go towards in-home care (if your loved one remains at home), or housing expenses (if they move into a community that provides care). This cost of care calculator can help you identify how much you may spend on either option. Other expenses include debts, medical bills, food, and more. Expenses can add up quickly, but fortunately there are several actions that you can take to stay on top of them:
My sister, extended family and I took care of our aging parents for 8 years until they passed away. It was the most palpably soul-crushing 8 years of my life. I drained my bank account to pay for my father’s funeral. I lost a good job because I didn’t have the time or energy to perform at the level that they needed from me. No one should have to go through that. That’s why I created CareCopilot.
–Alyse Dunn, founder of CareCopilot
2.) Identify the financial resources your loved one has, and how that compares to what they’ll need. This is again why getting a diagnosis from a trained medical professional is so important. The diagnosis sets the care plan, and in turn sheds light on how much money you’ll need to execute on that plan.
3.) Consider outsourcing. A daily money manager can help you identify all of the assets that your loved one has, and whether or not they’ll have ‘enough’. A bill concierge service can handle the day-to-day bill paying, so that you don’t have to manage their bills and yours. Note that services like these do charge fees. However, depending on your income level and location, you may qualify for discounted or complimentary services.
Caregiving can be overwhelming. There’s so much stress and anxiety that it’s simply too much for some families to construct a monthly budget, track expenses, and ensure that all bills are paid correctly. Outsourcing to a bill concierge service can take a lot of that off of your plate, and it can be less expensive than you think. Our service is available for free to families that live in certain areas.
–Marci Lobel-Esrig, Founder, CEO, and General Counsel of SilverBills
PILLAR #3: LEGAL
This is often the most overlooked pillar of the three, but it’s just as important as the other two. Many don’t realize until it’s too late that they’re unable to manage their loved one’s finances or make medical decisions for them because they don’t have the legal rights to do so. It’s important to start the process of getting the needed paperwork early, while your loved one still has the mental capacity to sign off on it:
People often talk about the importance of preparing a will and, of course, that is important. However, the biggest mistake I see families make is failing to prepare Powers of Attorney. These documents affect the quality of your life while you are still alive. A Durable Power of Attorney for health care allows a specified person to make medical decisions and access medical information. It can include critical decisions like whether you want to be kept alive in a vegetative state, or not. A Durable Power of Attorney for finances allows a specified person to access financial accounts and pay bills. They are simple and inexpensive documents to prepare, even with a lawyer. However, they can only be signed by a mentally competent adult. If you wait until dementia or some other illness has become too severe, then it is too late. At that point, your only option is to go to court and have a guardian appointed. Guardianship is complicated, expensive and cumbersome. Fortunately, that result is completely avoidable with some minimal planning.
– Eric Parker, partner at Stotis & Baird Chartered
Fortunately, for this final pillar, execution is simple: Schedule time with an attorney today to confirm what you need. These attorneys might be called ‘family’ attorneys or ‘eldercare’ attorneys, and if you’re unsure how to find one that practices in your state, this database contains hundreds of them. Another tip: Some attorneys also provide support in applying for Medicaid: free health insurance for lower-income and/or disabled adults who qualify. So, if you think you may want to apply for Medicaid for your loved one, be sure to ask the attorneys who you speak with if they provide help with that application.
Find this article helpful? Sign up for CareCopilot to be the first to know about future articles, app releases, and more. You can also email us anytime at email@example.com with questions or to request free help from CareCopilot.