Organizing senior care is often a reactive process: your mother or father has a health event, a healthcare professional tells you that they can no longer be home alone, or that they will require certain care services, and you and your siblings scramble to find the best way to deal with this new reality, all while you’re likely still reeling from the realization that your parent is no longer your caregiver - instead, the time has come for you to take care of them.
In this post, we offer some suggestions which will help you flip the search for senior care from a reactive process to a proactive one. By having frank and understanding conversations with your parents, preparing for the unpleasant scenarios you might prefer to avoid thinking about, and keeping your parents’ health and their own preferences in mind as you make decisions as a family, you can make the process of becoming your parent’s caregiver significantly less stressful.
1. Do Your Research
This step may seem like an obvious one, but we are often reluctant to think about things that trouble us. If you’re bothered by the idea of your mother or father living in a nursing home, chances are that reading about nursing homes in their area will be quite low on your to-do list. But the fact of the matter is that doing your research is an essential part of proactive senior care: it will prepare you to help your parents make decisions about their future. Once you have information about all possible senior care options, you’ll be equipped to make a choice that you can feel confident about, rather than making an uncertain decision in the midst of a stressful moment.
There are numerous options available: retirement residences, seniors’ homes, assisted living facilities, home care from various caregiving professionals, and nursing homes. Each option varies in the amount of care provided to seniors, the amount of independence they are able to maintain, and in terms of cost. You’ll have to take all these factors and many more into consideration when making decisions about your parent’s senior care, and if you fully understand every possible route, you’ll be able to identify which choice is best for your parent.
There is a wealth of information out there, so take time to read up on the pros and cons of each path your parent might take in their future. This senior care guide is a great place to start.
2. Talk to Your Parents
Be proactive when it comes to finding out your parent’s wishes regarding their future. Aim to have a frank and open conversation about the future when your parents are in their sixties, around retirement age. It may be wise to have this conversation earlier if your parent already has a chronic illness, but it is never wise to have it later. It can be incredibly tempting to put this off, but ultimately, having an uncomfortable conversation while your parent is in good health is preferable to making decisions without their input during a crisis.
Your parent deserves to be involved in decisions about their future care. After a health event, their feelings may be overlooked - they may not be in the right state of mind to give you their input. Have the conversation early, so that even in the most stressful situations, you can feel confident in making decisions your parent would be comfortable with.
Talk with your parents about creating a will, if they have not already, and about the benefits of having a living will. Ask them if they have chosen their Powers of Attorney (POA), who will make medical and financial decisions in the event that they are incapacitated.
You should also talk to your parents about their care options. Many seniors feel strongly that they do not want to move into a nursing home; discuss this possibility with your parents, and discuss alternative care options, such as home care. Ninety percent of seniors wish to age in place in their own homes; if your parents are part of this majority, agencies like Mavencare make that a real possibility.
Finances will also factor into these conversations: talk to your parents about the coverage their insurance provides, what their savings will cover, and how you and/or your siblings may be able to help. This post offers some tips on estimating and planning for senior care costs.
3. Keep Care Continuous
A vital element of being proactive when it comes to your parents’ senior years is making sure that the healthcare they receive is continuous rather than episodic - which is essentially another way of saying “proactive rather than reactive.” As your parents get older, remind them to keep up with their doctor’s appointments and to report any new symptoms they experience. Any existing health conditions should be monitored by your parent’s primary physician, with the assistance of specialists, in order implement proactive or preventative measures and to intervene with treatment as soon as it is necessary.
If your parent is receiving continuous healthcare, chances are that any illnesses or injuries will be noticed early and treated promptly. This will allow your parent a better chance to recover successfully from illnesses, and it will diminish potential discomfort and suffering. Some seniors may grow forgetful and therefore have difficulty keeping up with their doctor’s appointments or filling their prescriptions. It is worth checking to see if your parent’s doctor can provide reminder phone calls for appointments and if their pharmacy can refill prescriptions automatically on a steady schedule. If these are not possibilities, it may be a good idea to put reminders in your own calendar, so that you can check in and make sure that your parent is up-to-date with their preventative healthcare.
Another important part of proactive healthcare is keeping up with the correct dosages of medications. Pill organizers labelled with the days of the week and/or times of day can be very useful for seniors. If your parent has a complex medication regimen, it might be worth it to find them a caregiver who can provide medication supervision.
Lastly, remember that when it comes to proactively taking care of your parent’s physical health, it’s not just about visits to the doctor and prescriptions. Preventative care also involves making your parent’s home and daily routine are as safe as possible to avoid falls and any other injuries. Depending on your parent’s situation, you may want to have a home safety assessment conducted, or you can improve the safety of their home yourself by using a home safety checklist like this one.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re aware of any daily activities that might pose risks for your parent. If you’re concerned about them cooking, bathing, or doing other tasks alone, it is likely a good idea to get some weekly assistance from a caregiver. This will reduce your parent’s stress along with improving their safety, and it's also a great way for your family to "test out" home care as you prepare for your parent's future.
4. Consider Care in Respect to Future Decisions
While the majority of seniors wish to age in place in their own homes, for many seniors, the place they call home is not the house they occupied with their spouse and children in their younger years. Seniors relocate for many reasons: a two- or three-storey house can be an overwhelming amount of space for just one or two people, they might wish to live in a warmer climate, or they may want to move to be closer to family, particularly their grandchildren. Seniors often move after retirement, when their job no longer ties them to a specific location, or after the death of a spouse.
Regardless of the reasoning behind a relocation, speaking with your parent(s) about their future living arrangements and location is a proactive way to make future care decisions a bit easier. If your mother or father wants to move to Florida and enjoy the warm weather, talk with them about living in a single-storey dwelling, ideally one with elements of universal home design, which will eliminate many fall risks and make life easier should your parent ever need a wheelchair. If your parents want to sell their home, discuss the possibility of their moving to a city or town in which you or your siblings live.
Even if your parents have only recently retired and are in good physical health, it’s always useful to discuss the care options available in the area in which they wish to live. Consider the availability of healthcare professionals, the proximity of hospitals, and travel times for you or other family members. These should not be the only considerations that dictate where your parents will spend their retirement years, but they are important points to discuss.
5. Pack a “To-Go” Bag
Inevitably, as we grow older, our health suffers to some degree. With continuous, proactive, and preventative healthcare, your senior parent's health will be better than it would be otherwise, but for some seniors - particularly those with chronic illnesses - health events can be unavoidable. As much as we might wish to avoid thinking about the discomforts of illness and injury and about our parents’ mortality, it’s a good idea to be prepared for potential hospital stays.
A “To-Go” bag is a bag full of items your parent might require during a hospital stay. The bag might contain:
- a couple changes of clothes: underwear, socks, pyjamas, comfortable clothing, and slippers
- personal care items: a hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lotions
- reading material: books, magazines, or ‘game’ books which include easy crossword puzzles or word searches
- comforting items: family photos, rosary beads, an address book with family and friends’ phone numbers
- a list of medications
- a list of allergies
- insurance information
- identification of medical Power of Attorney
- a small amount of cash
While you certainly don’t want to think about your parent falling ill, packing a to-go bag is a wise step to take. As one senior says, having a to-go bag “makes a difficult time go better.” His medical Power of Attorney agrees, pointing out that preparation allows one to stay calm during a crisis, and that the better prepared you are, the faster medical professionals can begin treatment: doctors can make efficient and effective decisions about care when you arrive at the hospital as quickly as possible with a list of your medications at the ready.
Making an effort to be proactive about your parent's care can be extremely beneficial for your whole family - and it's never too late to start. Ideally, you want to start proactive and preventative care as early as possible, but if your parent has already experienced a health event, you can still begin implementing proactive measures as you prepare for the future. The proactive steps outlined in this post will allow you and your parent to rest assured that there are plans in place for both the current moment and the future, and you'll be able to focus on spending quality time together rather than worrying about what-ifs.