On Becoming a Savvy Caregiver or Informed Care Recipient

April 02, 2020

In our last blog we talked about  "Activities of Daily Living". These are self-care tasks we take for granted, until we are unable to perform them, and must rely on someone else to help us through the day. If you become that appointed caregiver, will you be ready, willing and able to answer the call? If you need care, can your home safely support you? What are your wishes around receiving and giving care? Have you shared and/or planned for them?

It is so difficult to imagine our older selves! At 58 years of age today, I recall being 25, working in my first job, and thinking 35 was far away. However, at 32, a ruptured lumbar disc sent me to the OR for surgery, and suddenly I did not feel so invincible. In fact, I relied upon my wife to help me out of bed, help me dress, bring me meals, all while she cared for our two toddling daughters. Fast forward 26 years, and I am witnessing my father-in-law, at 93, decline rapidly from active golfer just 6 months ago, to now, where physical help is necessary for transferring him to locations around the house, bathing, toileting, dressing, and meal preparation. While my back healed and my independence was regained, my father-in-law will not see a restoration of physical function. He requires 24-hour support of daily living tasks. Although we feel blessed that he lived out so many years in great health, his body and his brain, are reaching an inevitable sunset. For many, the need for support may not be as great, or be triggered so late in life, but it may translate into a longer window of lesser need too.

An important distinction in the example above, where an older loved one requires caregiver support, is that this assistance is for the remainder of their life; a time frame that can vary from weeks to years. They will not improve, but rather will continue, if imperceptibly, to decline. As such, the family caregiver will surrender much of their time and life to caregiving tasks. The role of spouse or child becomes co-mingled with that of caregiver, and the texture of the relationship can change. Some find it enriching, others find it laden with angst. The caregiving bookshelf is full of material that addresses the multidimensional burden of the "informal" family caregiver.

Family situations vary widely in terms of whether relatives are willing and able to provide care, transportation, companionship, and/or financial support. Before any long-term care plan is organized - particularly when the elder is to remain at home without a spouse - family members must get together and discuss what each of them will do to help meet needs that cannot be met by outside care or would be prohibitively expensive if provided by paid caregivers.

Our goal, when working with clients, is to get out in front of these circumstances, peer into the future to help them to see what's coming, educate them on resource options, and clarify their wishes when it comes to care, whether giving or receiving. A discussion of the emotional and physical demands necessary for various caregiving tasks is important, as is reviewing the financial implications of supporting one’s wishes and plans. This is particularly relevant since most would prefer to not be a care-giving burden to their loved ones to the extent possible.

A common desire for many when planning for longevity, is to maintain their independence, and quality of life to which they’re accustomed or perhaps even better. The successful realization of this as we age, is to anticipate the things that might interfere with this idea. If we are realistic about the probability of a disability or a reduction in function during our later years, and we plan for it with our eyes open, then we can deploy and coordinate the supportive resources we identified during our “what-if” planning sessions, and keep our lives on course. It may also allow us to choose whether or how much we would like family to be involved in caregiving.

Becoming a savvy caregiver and an informed care recipient, begins with planning ahead, so that you weigh and measure the type of care you would like to give and/or receive.

Also, if you have not investigated Long Term Care insurance, you should educate yourself on the choices, how they can be funded and what they cover. Your future self will thank you. An upcoming blog post will examine the newer ideas in Long Term Care insurance.

In summary, as part of a larger Aging Preparedness Plan, seek to

  • Understand how aging impacts health, and one’s ability to perform the Activities of Daily Living.

  • Explore under what circumstances you are willing and able to be a caregiver AND as a care recipient who you would prefer as caregiver (spouse, family, professional caregiver).

  • Meet with professionals who can help you plan and coordinate resources both financial and care-related, to ensure a cost-effective approach to supporting your wishes.

Should you like to discuss starting your own Aging Preparedness Plan or just have questions, do not hesitate to contact us!