It is hard to imagine the tables turning and taking care of your parent after they have taken care of you for 18 or 30 or 45 years. For me, the time came 15 years before I was prepared, and I know I am not alone. When the time comes, will you be prepared?
You may be asking yourself; how do I prepare? There are plenty of checklists and guides out there to help you prepare or, on the flip side, make you feel even more overwhelmed. I will walk you through the main steps to get you on your way through:
Creating your team – am I on my own or do I have others to lean on?
Making a plan – what do we know, what do we need, what do we have?
Moving forward – reaction vs. planning
But, before planning or taking a step, one question is worth asking before all others… Do you know what your parent wants? You may think they should live in your house with you and your kids and your pets and your busy, noisy life. Or you may want to sign them up for Assisted Living at the highest point level today. You may want them to seek every medical treatment and clinical trial for what ails them. Or you may want to send them to an ayurvedic, silent retreat center for meditative tumor reduction. Whatever you may have in mind for your aging parent, even with your best intentions, it may not be what your parent wants – or needs. In Atul Gawande’s bestselling book, Being Mortal,he lays out four questions he uses with patients of a certain age and/or stage of health:
· What is your understanding of where you are with your health?
· What are your worries for the future?
· What are your hopes and priorities?
· What are you willing to sacrifice, and what are you NOT willing to sacrifice?
These questions, and your parent’s answers, can help provide a path forward that keeps their needs and wants at the forefront of the many decisions you will make together. After all, one day you will be the one answering these questions - won’t you want your family to honor your needs and wants?
Whether you are on your own or leading a family effort to care for your loved one, you will need support and resources. You may be looking ahead and planning strategically for the financial, logistical, and emotional impacts, or you may find yourself rushing to react to an immediate need. Either way, you should consider creating a team to help you with the many tasks and decisions that are to come. Delegating to family members and outsourcing to professional service providers, such as Elder Care Navigators, can dramatically reduce the pressure of caring for your parent and their increasing needs. When you have the time to plan as a family with your loved one, a professional navigation service can bring to your team the expertise of attorneys to assist with health care directives and estate planning, housing specialists to assess your needs and best-suited living arrangements, Medicare/Medicaid specialists to help navigate the complexities (understatement) of both systems and many more support services. Regardless of whether you employ a professional service or take on the work as a family, the goal remains to keep your loved one’s wishes at the forefront while balancing those wishes with their health and safety, and to remain aligned as a team.
Luckily for all of us, much work has been done to assist in this complicated, and often emotional, journey. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is a wealth of information I ignored every time it offended me by showing up in my mailbox. Why did AARP think I was anywhere near old enough to be sent this brochure?! Now I realize that this information could have prepared me for the world of unexpected diagnoses, lengthy calls with insurance specialists, options for palliative and hospice care, and all the other things I did not know I would need to know when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at 71 years young. The Prepare To Care Guide offered by AARP is 36 pages of hardcore reality, gentle suggestions, endless resources and the ultimate checklist of checklists for you, your team and your loved one. This tool not only helps identify areas where more support or attention may be necessary, it also provides you a method to prioritize immediate needs, collect and record critical information and create a plan that works for you and your aging parent. It can feel like you have all the time in the world or that time is racing away with your parent, either way it will only benefit you and your team to take the time to develop a plan to follow as the decisions only get harder and more frequent.
Now that you have had the hard conversation with your parent or loved one, formed your team of family and/or professionals, assessed immediate needs and planned, it is time to move forward and put your plan into action. As with all best laid plans, do count on some things going sideways or upside down completely. And, be prepared that the process of caring for your aging parent is only part logistics and much love and grief and patience. You may find the work of it exhausting and frustrating. You may find your parent or loved one exhausting and frustrating. Make sure you take care of yourself during this time, lean on your team, take time off as is possible and try to remember that the love and care you put into caring for your parent during this time is equal to or greater than the love and care they put into caring for you.
Hard conversations are HARD. Use guides and resources to help take the edge off.
Ask for help. Be it your family or professional services, ask for help before you need it.
Assess and plan before action. The benefit to taking a minute, even in a critical scenario, can save you time and suffering down the road.
Time is finite. Love is eternal. Forgiveness is everything.