Caregiver's Corner: The Importance of a Caregiver Plan
By: Sarah M. Sobel, LMSW- Contract Administrator- Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan
September marks six years that I have worked at the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM). It has been six years of journeying alongside older adults and their caregivers. When reflecting on this time many things stand. Two that stand out are the resilience of older adults and their caregivers' dedication, and an overall sense of urgency to share with all persons the need for a caregiver plan.
Over the years there have been countless times where a caregiver has shared that their loved one had a sudden event and now needs more assistance at home. But when asked what their loved one's desire for their medical needs are, the caregiver is unsure. Additionally, it is often found after these events that there has been no medical power of attorney appointed. I may sound like a broken record, but I will continue to advocate that it is never too early to start a caregiver plan and conversation with a loved one on their desire for care and future needs.
What is a caregiver plan, you might ask? It is a written-out conversation about what a family member might need to help one age with grace and dignity. There also could be a legal side to the caregiver plan, including all crucial paperwork such as a will/trust and a medical/ financial power of attorney. Here are three steps I suggest for getting started.
Examine: Take some time personally to think about the what-if scenarios. It is hard to predict what is going to happen in the future. But, take some time on several occasions for the next couple of weeks and write out a few different scenarios. Think about what child or loved one might have your best interest in mind when making medical decisions for you at a crucial time. Who might be the best person equipped to make financial decisions? I always suggest making this decision in your head and then coming back to it a few days later to see if you still feel confident in your decision.
Plan: Next, dive deeper into what you want when it comes to where you would like to age. Would you like to age in your own home? If you would like to stay in your home- is your home fit for you to age in place? Are there any fall hazards in your home? Are you able to continue to do your laundry and meeting your hygiene needs in your own home? Or would you like to be in a community with others where you can be social and involved in activities if your health might allow for it at the time? There is no wrong answer and I say all this while knowing that sometimes life does throw us curveballs. But nevertheless, I still believe it is crucial to examine our desires and what we want for our future at any age.
Another thing I suggest is to examine the financial state of aging. Ask questions like do they have, or can they get long–term care insurance? If they do or can get a policy, what is covered and how can you use it? If the loved one has limited assets, are there community resources that might be available for the loved one, such as Medicaid waiver or in-home community supports?
(In Kent County – there is a millage dedicated to keeping older adults in their homes to age with grace and dignity. For more information on these resources, please check the website: https://www.aaawm.org/uploads/files/2021_Kent_County_Senior_Millage_Services_Directory.pdf)
Meet: Often, the next step in the caregiver plan process is a family meeting or a group meeting with the aging loved one and their close family members. In this meeting share with the community surrounding you what your desires are for when you age- and who you would like to handle each task. If this will be a sticky conversation for your family member, involving a mediator is always an option.
You can also take this opportunity to meet with an elder law attorney to make sure all your financial and medical documents are in place. And then, for everyone's benefit, write down as much of the details of the plan that you can document and be prepared to re-evaluate and revise on an annual basis.
As I mentioned, many things for the future are unpredictable, but having a plan can help. Aging is a journey, and like all journeys that one takes, it is best to research the destination, pack for the trip, and enjoy the ride.
For a complete list of Family Caregiver University classes provided by the Caregiver Resource Network, please call (888) 456-5664 or visit www.caregiverresource.net.
Caregiver's Corner is provided as a public service of the Caregiver Resource Network. The Caregiver Resource Network collaborates with West Michigan organizations dedicated to providing for the needs and welfare of family and professional caregivers within the community, funded by the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan with Older American's Act Title IIIE, Family Caregiver Support funds.