Sooner or later most of us will need to provide care for aging or ill parents, a spouse or other family members. Because most Americans want to ‘age in place’ in their own homes, we should already have an effective caregiver plan in place designating primary and backup caregivers and arranging for help with meals, personal care, finances, transportation and other considerations before the need arises.

Start the conversation

If a parent or spouse is becoming frail, forgetful or having other health or psychological concerns, AARP suggests that it may be time to gently raise the question of outside assistance. Many older people, especially when they’re our parents, may have been used to being independent and ‘doing for others’ and have difficulty asking for help.

Decide on the tasks and roles caregivers or others will be responsible for performing

An effective caregiver plan considers the recipient’s needs and health status as primary in determining what kind of care is needed. Is it just light housekeeping and transportation or will a caregiver need to bathe, dress and perform more personal care tasks? Will medications need to be administered?

Form a team and write a plan

  • Who will be the primary caregiver? Will that person be a family member living nearby or, if from a distance, can arrangements be made for the loved one’s care, such as through a home care agency?
  • How will finances, such as bills and banking, be handled?
  • If home aides or hired caregivers are needed, who will pay for it? Most policies, including Medicare, only pay for care needs requested by a prescribing doctor, not home aides or similar non-medical support services.
  • Be sure to work out how you will share information between family members and others involved, such as email, or consider using a scheduling tool to track doctor and other appointments.

Organize critical information and update contacts

  • Gather financial information, including banking records, investment information, Social Security and pension records.
  • Have legal documents in order, such as Power of Attorney, guardianship arrangements, a Living Will, if applicable, in addition to a regular Will. If none of these documents exist, make an appointment with an attorney specializing in estate planning or elder law and cross those important tasks off the to-do list as soon as possible.
  • Organize the health insurance or Medicare documentation as well as medical records and health provider history.

Caring for your family member

Most communities and counties offer seniors and those who are homebound helpful information in providing care for your parent or family member, as does the Visiting Nurse Association of America. Many of these resources are free or available for a nominal charge. A specialist in Medicare and elder law can help guide you in planning for future care needs and provide answers to many questions. As part of an effective caregiver plan, do an in-home assessment: is the loved one’s environment safe? Do bathroom grab bars or other equipment and modifications need to be installed for easier, safer care?

Caring for the caregiver

Arrange with a home care agency for backup care and take time to recharge your own batteries before burnout sets in. Go out with friends once a week, take in a movie, meditate or whatever renews you physically and mentally. Caring for anyone is physically and emotionally demanding, no matter how much you love them. Including self-care as part of an effective caregiver plan will leave you in a better position to help provide quality homecare for your loved one.