When something goes wrong, it often gets worse when answers are not available. An eldercare plan prevents chaos and provides comfort to distraught family members already shaken when family members face an unexpected trauma.
Creating an elder care plan is simple, but many unfortunately put it off or hope to avoid it altogether. An elder care plan covers all life–altering factors with the goal of providing clarity, so family members know the express wishes, relieving them of having to guess. The development of these documents would encourage everyone’s input before the triggering event occurs.
Ultimately, to age with control in the decision–making process requires planning ahead of time. When my mom fell and broke her neck, my sister and I (and my husband) pitched in taking care of her while she was in the hospital for six months. The first two months were the most labour intensive. At that time, she could not feed herself, brush her teeth or walk. The only source of comfort in this very difficult period was the assurance that we knew what our mother wanted because we had created an elder care plan in advance. So our decisions were not based on knee- jerk reactions but based on a clear understanding of her priorities and wishes.
The following are the four steps to creating an effective elder care plan:
- Watch for early signs: One of the first changes adult children may see is their parents’ difficulty in managing their day to day tasks. This can range from paying the bills, booking appointments and grocery shopping. With the technology age accelerating at a pace faster than most people can keep up to, our parents may become overwhelmed and overloaded. Also as they slow down, become forgetful or mobility becomes impaired, the necessity for intervention becomes necessary. Check expiry dates on food items – having expired items can be both a health risk as well as an early warning sign.
- Open discussion: The plan development requires an open discussion, deliberation and concessions before any event happens. Asking questions about their priorities and preferences will give everyone insight into wishes that can form the basis of the elder care plan. It will also allow your parents control over their life as they age. Control will enable your parents to feel empowered about the decisions made and not waylaid which may lead to resentment and anger over the aging process. Often, when the call comes that mom or dad is in the hospital, just diagnosed with cancer or Alzheimer’s, we are all in a heightened emotional state, and frequently decisions that are made are rash, and ill thought through. Some questions to start the conversation could include:
- What defines your quality of life?
- How important is it to stay in the home through the aging process?
- What services would you feel comfortable receiving from a hired caregiver?
- Would you consider alternative living arrangements?
- Do you expect the family to provide primary caregiving?
- Task-oriented planning: Part of the elder plan would encourage daily living tasks be divided so that each participating family member is properly or fairly suited to the specific task. Whoever likes spending time on the computer should help automate the bills, whoever lives closest to mom and dad should help with the grocery shopping on their normal shopping day. To presume that whoever is; single, has less responsibility, the youngest, the oldest…whatever the presumption, it frequently turns out to be a mistake. A significant component to coordinating caregiving for your parents is the emotional impact this has on everyone. We are not all suited or able to be caregivers.
- Summary of Accounts & Contacts: Another aspect of the elder plan should be collecting all pertinent information in one convenient file. This should include, at a minimum, your parent’s full legal name, emergency contact, and the relationship of key contacts. A complete list would include all financial accounts and passwords, name of the lawyer and financial planner. The health care and emergency contacts summary should be kept in the purse or jacket of your parent. As a starting point, this gives healthcare professionals a point of reference if your parents are in the hospital and because of the nature of the situation are unable to answer clearly any questions they are asked. With a little bit of time and empathy, creating an elder care plan can be a simple process that should not be delayed. An elder care plan provides clarity so family members know what the express wishes are relieving them of having to guess. When disaster hit our family, we had the comfort of knowing that our mom was not just being taken care of, but was being cared for in a manner that she wanted.
Twitter handle: @NeelaWhiteRWAM
Neela White is an portfolio manager with 3Macs, a division of Raymond James Ltd. She holds a degree in gerontology from McMaster University and is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) and an Elder Planning Counsellor (EPC). The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Raymond James. This article is for information only. Raymond James Ltd., member — Canadian Investor Protection Fund.