Tips for caring for older family members

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

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Most people don't plan on becoming caregivers for older or disabled family members or friends. It just happens. And when it happens, caregivers need to plan for their loved ones' daily living needs, medical issues and legal and financial concerns-all while juggling their own daily lives.

There are more than 50 million people caring for aged, disabled or chronically ill family members or friends each year, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. And those numbers keep rising as the Baby Boom generation ages.

"Becoming a caregiver is a big undertaking that doesn't come with specific job descriptions. Often the role of care giving is unexpected and comes at a time when you're unprepared," says Rebecca Sharp Colmer, a certified senior advisor and author of the Family Caregiver Starter Kit, which contains resources, ideas and checklists for caregivers.

Colmer knows personally the challenges and rewards of family care giving, having been a long-distance caregiver for her parents and father-in-law, and a caregiver coach for a friend whose husband has Alzheimer's disease.

Here are some tips from the Family Caregiver Starter Kit to help caregivers take care of loved ones:

  • Avoid talking to the care-receiver like a baby or talking about the person as if he or she wasn't there.
  • Get a complete diagnostic workup on the care-receiver. Discuss with the doctor what is happening and what to expect. Determine the current level of functioning. Learn his or her medical history, medications and dosages. Label medication and keep them locked up.
  • Try to have the care-receiver get dressed at the same time daily to create a routine. The way the person functions may change from day to day, so be flexible and adapt your routine as needed.
  • Minimize safety risks by using a hand-held showerhead, shower bench, grab bars, and non-skid bath mats. Never leave the person alone in the bath or shower. Remove locks on bathroom doors to prevent the person from accidentally getting locked in.
  • Choose dishes and eating tools that promote independence. If the person has trouble using utensils, use a bowl instead of a plate, or utensils with large handles. Use straws or cups with lids to make drinking easier. Be alert to kitchen-safety issues, such as the person forgetting to turn off the stove after cooking. Consider installing an automatic shut-off switch to prevent burns or fire.
  • Locate government agencies and learn how to apply for services offering financial support (disability), personal care assistants and other services. Investigate the care-receiver's eligibility for financial assistance programs.
  • Gather all "paper" in one safe place-certified copies of birth certificates, marriage certificate, divorce decree, voter registration, vehicle registration and title, social security card, military identification and discharge orders.
  • Determine who is handling finances, including checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, CDs, real estate, and safety deposit contents. Determine the amount and source of all income. If the care-receiver is receiving Social Security, do you want to be designated as the representative payee? Review the location of all insurance policies and payment of premiums.
  • Determine if the care-receiver needs assistance managing his or her legal affairs. Consult an elder law attorney who is knowledgeable on issues involving Medicaid, Medicare, guardianship, estate planning, trusts, and advanced directives. Seek advice for preparing or revising such documents as durable power of attorney, living will, trusts, will, guardianship, and health care directives.
  • Learn the care-receiver's wishes for funeral arrangements. Are wishes known regarding burial or cremation? Are arrangements in place for a funeral, cemetery plot, etc?
  • "When you are thrust into the role of caregiver you'll need to quickly learn as much as you can about care-giving and local community resources," says Colmer. "Most importantly, it's critical you establish a well thought-out Care Plan that accounts for the care-receiver's needs as well as your own."
  • To learn about caregiver resources and how to find them, read the Family Caregiver's Starter Kit, available at bookstores or at www.meandmycaregivers.com.