Navigating the caregiving experience: resources to help clients
Dr. Sandra Timmermann
Many adult children of aging parents don’t know where to start if they need to make decisions about Mom and Dad’s care. If their parents haven’t planned ahead or do not have a long-term care insurance policy, caregivers find themselves at a loss about where to go to get information (even about their parents’ finances) and then to decide on what services are needed. Financial services professionals can play a role by providing information about services available to family caregivers, how to access them and what they might cost.
How caregivers can get started
There is no easy “one-stop-shop” for caregivers to go to. Caregivers, especially those who live at a distance, can spend hours searching for answers to questions such as: “What should I do now, Mom isn’t paying bills and can’t remember who called her?”, “How do a find a reliable, honest person to help Dad a few hours a week?”, “Should I take the car keys away, and then how will he get around?”, “Where can I find someone to put grab bars in the bathroom and a ramp outside?”, “How can I protect Dad from becoming a victim of financial scams and fraud?”. None of these questions have simple answers, but there are some good ways to begin to find the answers.
- Start by contacting the local Area Agency on Aging.
There are over 600 “Triple As” that form a national network, connecting older people and their families throughout the country with local programs and services. Created under a Federal law, the Older Americans Act, they support services such as meals on wheels, transportation, adult day care, and senior centers, all available at no or low cost. They also sponsor an information telephone line for family caregivers and can provide general guidance on home care, assisted living, respite care and other public and private services. To find the Area Agency on Aging in your community, go to their website or call 1-800-677-1116.
- Explore eldercare benefits offered through your employer.
Many employees of large or medium-sized companies are surprised to find that their employer makes resources available to assist working caregivers with eldercare issues. Employees at these companies are likely to have access to an internal website with a wealth of caregiving information, and the option to speak with a designated eldercare coordinator who can answer questions, provide lists of local resources and help them think through what might be needed. Though not as common, some employers offer more robust services such as in-person consultations or paid leave. Check with the human resources department to see if these benefits are available.
- Retain a care manager.
It may be a smart move for caregivers to hire a private geriatric care manager--usually a social worker or nurse--to help families with eldercare needs. They generally start with an in-home assessment, then meet with the family and put a care plan in place. Depending on the agreement, families may want them to implement the plan and take on more responsibility. As the onsite experts, coordinators and advocates, they provide services such as monitoring care, solving problems, dealing with health insurance issues, and handling crises as they occur. To locate a care manager, contact the Aging Life Care Association (ALCA). All 2,000+ members must meet strict criteria and sign a code of ethics.
Aging Life Care Association (ALCA)
- Visit websites for caregivers.
There are a number of websites that focus on caregiving and it’s worth taking time to look into them. Their subject matter is extensive, and ranges from information on benefits and legal documents to tips for hiring private caregivers to caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease and suggestions for coping with the ups and downs of being a caregiver. Some have chat rooms that function as virtual support groups so caregivers can share their experiences. Others help you locate independent caregivers, home care agencies or assisted living facilities (although caregivers should note that they may be listed because they are advertisers). AARP has a robust section on its website for caregivers. Another helpful website is sponsored by the Family Caregiver Alliance. You can google “caregiving” to find other good websites.
- Understand more about financing care and protecting against financial abuse.
While caregivers begin their journey mainly concerned about parents’ health and safety, they soon find out that the financial and legal aspects of caregiving need to be dealt with too. They discover that home care, assisted living and nursing home care is very expensive and they may end up being the ones who will pay for Mom or Dad’s care. In the best of all worlds, their parents planned ahead, have all their legal and financial papers in order and purchased long-term care protection. No matter what the situation, a financial professional can play a valuable role by reviewing care options and the cost implications and by providing some strategies to help stretch caregiving dollars. Since elders are often victims of financial abuse, losing their financial nest egg impacts their ability to pay for care. It’s a good idea to become familiar with ways to prevent and report scams and fraud. Google “financial elder abuse” for descriptions of the causes, types of abuse and whom to contact if necessary, or go to the National Adult Protective Services Association website.
A wake-up call for caregivers
Even under the best circumstances, caregiving can be difficult, emotionally, physically and financially. It would be so much easier, however, if the adult children had had a conversation with their parents about long-term care earlier when emotions were in check and they were healthy and able to make their own decisions about the future. But there is good news about the caregiving experience. It can be a wake up call for caregivers to start a conversation with their own family. Because they understand what it’s like to care for an aging parent, they are more apt to think more seriously about what might happen to them and to their own children as they age or become disabled. There’s no better time to have a discussion about future care needs and preferences and whether purchasing long-term care insurance protection should be considered.
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