Things to Consider Before Becoming a Caregiver to Aging Parents
If you have aging parents, chances are that you’ve thought about what will happen once they need care as older adults. Here at TDS, we wanted to get an idea of things to consider before stepping into a caregiver role, so we reached out to Emily Gurnon, the senior editor of health and caregiving at PBS’s popular website Next Avenue. Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Is there a way to estimate how much time it takes to be a caregiver? And will the time amounts change over time? Can you easily estimate how needs will change?
Ms. Gurnon: Everyone’s situation is different. Caregiving can mean everything from picking up some groceries for your mother once a week to providing 24/7 care for a bedridden parent who lives with you. And your particular set of circumstances is certainly likely to change over time, as your loved one ages.
Q: What caregiver considerations are there when determining if an elderly parent should live alone or with you as primary caregiver?
Ms. Gurnon: It is important to determine whether your elderly parent is safe in his or her own home. Does she turn off the stove after she cooks? Does he forget to take his medication, or does he take too much of it? Has your parent started falling more often? You may decide, in consultation with your parent, that it is time to either hire some help to come in, to move your parent to your home, or to move him or her to an assisted living situation. But this must be done in consultation with the older adult. Many people find it very difficult to give up their independence when they grow older, and their adult children should be sensitive to these concerns. The best way to go about it is to begin the discussions far in advance of when the issues crop up.
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Q: How will becoming a caregiver affect your own personal finances?
Ms. Gurnon: Again, it depends on how deeply you are involved in the caregiving. Many older adults begin to depend on their child or children more and more as time goes on. A caregiver may start with a few occasional tasks and eventually find herself having to leave work to respond to a medical emergency or other situation. Some decide to quit their jobs altogether if they are needed for full-time caregiving. Or you may need to help pay for another person to come in to offer services to your parent if he or she cannot afford to. This is another area in which advance planning is useful.
Q: When should you bring in outside help? And how can you go about finding it?
Ms. Gurnon: It can be difficult to know if the time is right, but there are some excellent resources to assist you. This Next Avenue article, “When Should You Hire Home Care for Your Parent,” addresses that very question. In addition, do some research on what help will cost and what it can offer before you actually need help. You can find information by calling your local US Aging or searching online at ElderCare Locator.
Q: Do you need special training to become a caregiver? Are there tools and resources available to help someone take on the role?
Ms. Gurnon: Some older adults need help that doesn’t require special training. Others need caregivers to accomplish fairly complex medical tasks for which they feel unprepared. A number of local and national organizations offer training; they include the American Red Cross and the Family Caregiver Alliance.
Q: What legal considerations should potential caregivers think about? Are there documentation requirements or liability considerations?
Ms. Gurnon: The short answer is yes. You will need legal authority, such as a power of attorney, to make decisions on behalf of a loved one who cannot do so on her own, for instance. A good source for more information on this topic is AARP; see Legal Tips and Advice for Caregivers for some answers. And an eldercare attorney offers some helpful advice in this Next Avenue article, “Six Things Caregivers Must Do While There’s Still Time.”
Reviewed September 2021
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