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home | Getting Started | Crisis Days, Getting Ready

Crisis Days, Getting Ready
Debra Thompson

A 7 Point What-To-Do Checklist

Caring for an aging parent, elderly spouse, domestic partner or close friend presents difficult challenges— especially when a crisis hits and you are suddenly faced with the responsibilities of elder care.

More than 9 million people over the age of 65 will need long-term-care this year. Nevertheless, most families are totally unprepared when an emergency with their aging loved one happens. The first reaction is of fear, anguish, and guilt. Fear of losing a loved one, the anguish of seeing them suffer, and the guilt of not having planned in advance.

Whatever the situation, most families are not sure of the next step, or even the first step. Of course, each elder care situation is unique. The elder's medical history, financial resources, personality, relationships with potential caregivers, proximity to services and other factors all determine the best approach to take.

Whatever the circumstances, the following advice will help you get started. Here is a quick comprehensive elder care checklist. It will help you feel more confident that you haven't forgotten something important when you are taking decisions under time pressure.

First of all, clear your mind and relax. It may be difficult, but it will help sustain your spirit and prevent you from sinking under the weight of the responsibility.

1.  Call a family meeting. Try to get as many people as possible involved from the beginning. If possible, designate a person to be responsible for each task

2.  Collect information about medical providers. Here is some of the information you will need:

  • Copies of health insurance policies and the front and back of all insurance cards—if your loved one is 65 or older, you will need a copy of his or her Medicare card;
  • Make a list of all medications, dosage amounts and instructions for taking them;
  • Date and results of recent medical tests, including exams, x-rays, CT scans and MRIs;
  • Complete health history;
  • Names, phone numbers, and addresses of the doctors, dentist, pharmacy and their attorney.

3.  Learn as much as possible about the medical condition afflicting the senior. Talk to the doctors, and contact related organizations and associations for information about the disorder.

4.  Find out if the senior has the proper legal tools and documents in place. If necessary, consult an attorney specializing in elder law.

5.  Investigate your loved one's health insurance matters. Find out what kind of coverage they have, and if they are eligible for Medicare benefits or Medicaid. Explore other available financial resources, for example the worth of their home, real estate they might own, and how much is in their savings accounts.

6.  Take a crash course in community resources. Find out about senior centers and adult day services in the senior's area. Locate the best home health agencies that are nearby.

7.  As far as possible, talk to your senior. It's best to allow them as much independence as circumstances permit. Remember that the caregiver's role is to help them maintain as much control over their lives as feasible, not to take it away. Consult with them, consider their desires, and truly respect them. The more your relative is allowed to do, the longer he or she will be able to maintain a sense of ownership over the course of his or her own life.

Failure to understand and act on working directly with their appropriate desires on a daily basis is the primary reason people do so poorly in institutions. These involvements and considerations and the knowledge that those cared for need to be responsible for as much in their lives as is possible maintains their hope, self worth and respect—the same as we all feel, regardless of age.

After you've reviewed the list above and have an idea of the tasks and issues involved, take a deep breath and remember that you can ask for help. To begin, you can turn to your immediate family and friends for assistance.

You can also turn to professional resources, such as in-home health aides and elder companions. Of course, most of these services cost money, though some are covered under some health insurance plans or Medicaid.

Caring for an elder relative is not easy, and you deserve all of the support you can get. During the hard times, it might help to remember that what you are doing is noble and generous. Whether or not your loved one is able to express it, he or she is fortunate to have someone who is willing and able to do the job you've taken on.

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