Baby Boomers becoming caregivers for one or both of their parents face a challenging and rewarding responsibility. If you are in this group, you belong to a fast growing segment of the Baby Boomer population. Elder care is difficult, but giving back support and love to your parents can create a special time that brings you closer.
Here is some sage advice gained through experience that will help Baby Boomers in this journey:
Recognize that your roles are switching – you are becoming the parent as they hand over more responsibility and authority over their lives to you. The time will likely come when you have to make decisions for them.
Sit down with your parent(s) and have a frank discussion about how they would like to spend their “golden years.”
Make sure your parent(s) have a Living Will, so that their wishes can be carried out as they approach death (e.g., do not resuscitate or unnecessarily extend life by artificial means). Many hospitals will not let you make decisions for your parent(s) unless you are so appointed in a Living Will.
As a related caregiver, you should have a notarized Power of Attorney that allows you to make decisions if your parent(s) are incapable of doing so. It is also a good idea to become a joint account holder on their bank accounts and investments. If your parents have a living trust, you should be named as successor trustee, so you can step in as financial manager if needed.
If necessary, help them set up a system to ensure that bills are paid on time.
If you are concerned about a parent’s ability to continue driving, talk to their doctor or notify the local Department of Motor Vehicles (which may be able to require a driving test).
Have a written list of all the medications your parent(s) use, including dosage. Know how to contact their primary care physician. Have copies of their insurance records. This is very important information for emergency room personnel and hospitals.
Discuss funeral and internment wishes with your parent(s).
In a tactful way, help your parent(s) sort through their belongings. Whom would they like to receive special items? What can be gotten rid of?
Make sure your parent(s) have a written, witnessed Will to avoid the messy, expensive and lengthy probate process. Ideally, the primary caregiver should be the Executor of the Will.
Know where all important documents are.
If you feel like you need help, there are state, local and federal senior services organizations that provide a wealth of free or low-cost services. They can provide meals, transportation, training and in-home professional services to assist you as a caregiver or to help your parent(s) continue to live independently in the community. Also, there are online service where Baby Boomers can identify and explore benefits to which they and their parent(s) are entitled. Start with the National Council on Aging which covers local, state and federal programs.
Finally, this is a precious time. Include your parent(s) in activities and let them know everyday that you love them. A caregiver’s journey creates memories that will be treasured for the rest of your life.