Sunday, March 9, 2008

Create A Plan Of Action For Your Golden Years

As each day passes, every one of us, our parents, ourselves, our loved ones, our friends, is aging. If we are lucky, we will grow older gracefully, live out healthy lives, and die peacefully in our sleep.

Unfortunately, many of us won’t. Many of us may have a long, lingering illness and a difficult death; our declining mental and physical health will require a “caregiver” to help us through this passage. Before that may happen, we may well have the role of “caregiver” placed upon us, if and when a parent or loved one requires this life-changing service from us. For most of us who aren’t medical professionals, this is a new and difficult role, one which we may not expect or even desire. No matter which scenario happens first, caregiving for you or your loved one, this is the time to create a plan of action for those last golden and often stressful years.

An organization which has given a great deal of study and thought to this growing national problem is AARP, the premier voice for retired people and those facing the facts of aging. Though each person’s experience is unique, caregivers face many common challenges. Here is some recent information AARP has provided which can help us consider the situation and create our own plan of action:

Less time for personal and family life.
Caregiving takes time; as a result, caregivers have less time to spend with other family members or less leisure time for themselves.

The need to balance job and care giving responsibilities.
Caregiving tasks, such as taking a parent to the doctor, or talking to a social worker about community services, usually must be done during work hours. This can present problems on the job.

Financial hardships.
The products and services associated with providing care can be costly. Those costs can quickly add up.

Physical and emotional stress.
Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful, especially for those providing intense levels of care for long periods of time.

Most people do not prepare to be caregivers. The following are some steps that new caregivers can take to address their loved ones’ needs.

Determine housing options and preferences.
Are our older relatives still able to move freely and do things around the house?

Have they thought about living somewhere else? Options to consider could include staying in their current home with some changes or with some help; moving into a retirement community or some form of assisted living; living with relatives or others; or entering a nursing home.

Learn the medical history.
Do they have any medical conditions or health problems that are hindering their ability to live independently?

Who are their doctors?

What medications do they take?

If our parents are unclear about the details, it may be necessary to go with them on their next visit to the doctor.

Make a list of people in their personal support system.
Get contact information for everyone on the list. These could include emergency contacts, other close friends and relatives, neighbors, members of their church, housing managers, and others.

Create a financial profile.
List sources of income, such as Social Security and pensions, extended care insurance, monthly and yearly income.

List expenses, bank accounts and investments, and statements of net worth.

Get important account numbers in case these are needed in an emergency.

Review legal needs.
Determine which legal documents are needed, for example; wills, advance directives such as living wills and health proxy forms, trusts, powers of attorney, etc.

Find out where they keep important documents such as their birth certificate, deed to their home and insurance policies.

Gather information about services that can provide help.
These services include home care, adult day care services, home-delivered meals, and help with everyday activities.

Many caregivers get so caught up in providing care for others that their own needs go unmet. Here are some tips that can help caregivers take care of themselves – especially when they’re caring for others:

Take care of our own health.
Eat properly, get regular exercise, and set aside some time each week to do something to enjoy.

Speak up when support or assistance is needed.
Ask for help from family and friends before getting to the breaking point.

Find out about services that help caregivers.
Care/case management from a social service agency may be able to link our loved ones to benefits, services, and adult day services. Ask about respite care that can give a break to the caregiver and about support groups , both in the community and on the Internet.

Seek help or training to improve care giving skills.
Hospitals, volunteer organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and community service agencies are good places to look for appropriate training programs.

Thanks to organizations like AARP, aging can become less difficult for us and for our loved ones. A little planning now will go a long way to help ease the path to and through those “golden years”. It’s never too early to start, never too early to plan for the inevitable, never too early to live life to its fullest for every precious moment and day we have left.

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