By Sally Abrahms
Some things are inevitable: death, taxes and sometimes, even for the luckiest of us, other “bad stuff." When you're a family caregiver, you may not be able to anticipate what that bad stuff is. Maybe it's an unexpected accident or illness of a loved one—or even you, the caregiver—a decline in cognitive or physical function, incompetent or unreliable home health aides, work constraints, The Parentless Boss From Hell, or someone else in the family who has immediate needs (your spouse, your child, your grandkid, an in-law, or your other parent, too, for instance).
Of course, you can't precisely plan for things you don't know will happen (unless you're a seer). You can have knowledge, though—a sense of where to go, or whom to contact—so that you can get the information that you need.
In the context of caregiving, what do you need to know? How do you plan for the unplanned?
Your support system: relatives, professionals and friends who can help, or steer you to help. Identify them now.
You attitude must be realistic: Someone you love just may need help some day. (Get-real statistics: 43.million caregivers provide care for someone age 50+, while 14.9 million care for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia.) Who is going to provide that help? Have you discussed this with siblings?
Will your parents be able to stay where they are as they age? Does their house have steep steps and narrow doorways, which will make navigating difficult, or do they live in an apartment that has no elevator? Do they live near any of their children? Should they, and you, be thinking about making modifications so they can age in place, and if so, is there technology to consider? Or, does it make more sense to move, and then, what are your options? Talk to friends whose parents have “done" old age, to your local Council on Aging or senior center to find out what programs are in your community, including transportation services.
Do your parents have the right documents (advance care directive, power of attorney, will) and information compiled (contact information for health care, financial, insurance professionals, credit card companies, Social Security as well as banking, utilities and other house-related providers and accounts)? If so, where are they stored? Do you or another family member have access to them? Nothing like scrambling for this critical material in a crisis!
Think that you'll deal with these things when something happens? Sure you can, but it will limit your choices, could be more expensive if you don't have time to comparative shop, and will unquestionably ramp up your stress.
Perhaps he was never a caregiver, but Ben Franklin couldn't have said it better: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."
Have you made plans for the future? If so, what have you done? If not, why not?