How to be ready when your loved one needs a caregiver

The transition from independence to dependence on the support of a caregiver often happens abruptly and unexpectedly. Injury, illness, or the revelation of serious decline can come at any time. A family making caregiving choices in a crisis is forced to tackle serious emotional, financial, and practical decisions all at once. Deferring these decisions until they are unavoidable increases the chances of someone’s unhappiness with the results. A plan made when things are stable allows them to successfully manage this transition and execute the plan with confidence during a crisis.

How do you know when your loved one needs a home care aide?

Avoiding a crisis-driven decision about caregiving means asking the right questions before an emergency develops. The timing of a fall or a stroke isn’t predictable, but the healthiest of seniors can gradually lose their ability to manage daily living. Family members can stay ahead of problems by regularly looking for signs that a loved one isn’t caring for themselves properly. According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging’s website, the following issues can show that a loved one needs caregiving support:

  • “Hoarding
  • Failure to take essential medications or refusal to seek medical treatment for serious illness
  • Leaving a burning stove unattended
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not wearing suitable clothing for the weather
  • Confusion
  • Inability to attend to housekeeping
  • Dehydration”

Less visible issues like struggles with mobility, driving, mental health, and finances are also red flags. These are all problems that engaging a home care companion for senior to provide in home care could address.

What is the next step?

Whether you see signs that your loved one’s ability to self-care is waning, or you want to be ready for a sudden injury or illness that prevents them from caring for themselves, you need a plan. The best plan is the one you create with your loved one’s participation before anything happens. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) published a Family Caregiving Guide in 2021 that is full of resources designed to avoid crisis-based decision making about elderly in home care. The guide lists these five steps to begin this preparation with your loved one:

  1. “Start the conversation: Many people wait until a crisis occurs before they talk about their values and preferences, wishes for health care or details of their finances. If you wait until a fall, accident or serious diagnosis, big decisions may be driven by assumptions.
  2. Form your team: No one should try to approach the responsibilities of caregiving alone. While other family members are likely sources of support, don’t overlook friends, colleagues, clubs, or religious and other organizational affiliations as resources too.
  3. Make a plan: Putting together a family caregiving plan now will help you respond more quickly and effectively should the need arise. It can also provide some peace of mind. A plan helps everyone get on the same page and keeps the focus on what’s best for your loved one.
  4. Find support: Many issues may arise during your caregiving experience that require additional information and resources. Don’t hesitate to reach out to organizations and professionals with experience in helping family caregivers.
  5. Care for yourself: As a family caregiver, it’s easy to forget about your own needs. Keeping up your energy and maintaining your health are critical in order to care for others. It’s just as important to make a plan to take care of yourself as it is to create a caregiving plan for others.”

How do I create a plan for caregiving?

The AARP’s Family Caregiving Guide’s other resources include some helpful checklists that will guide potentially difficult conversation with your loved ones. These checklists can help you gather information and preferences on topics ranging from the broad to the specific, such as:

  • Goals & Needs – p. 23
  • General Needs Assessment – pp. 24-25
  • Personal Information & Documents – p. 26
  • Home Maintenance – p. 27
  • Health – pp. 28-29
  • Medication – p. 30
  • Transportation – p. 31
  • Financial – p. 32 and
  • Public Benefits – p. 33

The final pages (pp. 34-35) are a Sample Caregiving Plan and a Sample Detailed Weekly Caregiving Plan which will help families determine what kind of home care solutions their loved one needs. Another resource families can use to manage the transition with forethought is an individual geriatric care manager (also known as an aging life care professional). This person can conduct assessments of your loved one and offer advice and strategies for next steps and resources. The rest of AARP’s information and tools can be found on their website at www.aarp.org/caregiving.