Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Straight Talk With Dr. Cheryl- Preparing to Care Part 1- Opening the Discussion

Today, starts a 12- part series for adult children who have yet to begin eldercare, but would like to be better prepared when it comes. Thanks to my coach, Monique Carradine for suggesting this topic.

Preparation starts with getting the information you need to lay the foundation for excellent, compassionate caregiving. Unfortunately, many seniors see this as focusing on disability and death, rather than preparing to support their quality of life.

As soon as we told my father-in-law he had cancer, Daddy asked for an attorney. He laid everything out and all we had to do was follow his wishes. It got a little hairy because of conflict with some other family members, but we had clear directions from Daddy. That made it easier. Unfortunately, in more than thirty years of practice, I didn’t see many seniors that willing to face things.

Start by trying to make the discussion less directed at them; go for broader relevance. For example:
• People should start thinking about choosing a decision-maker when they reach legal age. In Illinois, that age is 18 (except for alcohol purchase and consumption.) My husband and I began those discussion with our kids on their eighteenth birthday. This may present an opportunity to begin discussion with the entire family, treating it as a rite of adult passage, or a responsibility like registering to vote. Of course, you are not going to bring it up at the birthday party, but you can reference this milestone, using it to open the discussion.
• Did one of their friends has an illness, made more difficult for their children because there had been no communication; the children didn’t have the information to do it well?
• Maybe someone became ill and the family had no way to take care of their business because they didn’t know where important documents were
• Perhaps your doctor asked you who would make decisions for you, and you’d never thought about it before. Asking the senior’s advice about how to make the decision could present an opportunity to ask what they would decide

Here’s the information you want to collect.
• List of all physicians and written permission to talk to them.
• Complete medical history (current and past conditions, pregnancies, surgeries and other procedures, hospitalizations, allergies
• List of medicines, which doctors prescribed them and why.
• Powers of Attorney for Health Care- Whom would they trust to make medical decisions for them if they could not do it themselves? Under what circumstances would they consider life still worth living?
• Would they prefer to live in their own homes, or would they consider a nursing facility?
• What are the financial resources are available to support that choice and who manages those resources?
• Powers of attorney for finance- Whom do they trust to manage their money and how would they want it spent.
• Will
• Insurance policies
• Mortgage or title to home, cars
• Burial arrangements, organ donation
• Are there any other relatives that you don’t know about (spouse, children)
• Are there any assets (property, accounts, insurance policies,) or debts that you don’t know about
• Keys and permission to enter safe deposit box
• Access to bank accounts and trusts (either through POA for finance, trust officer, or a physician’s statement of disability that triggers access to funds.
• If one spouse were to pass, how would the living spouse’s finances change (amount of social security and pension income)
Whatever you do, don’t wait until there is an emergency involving life and death. Start these discussions as natural parts of life. Have them early and often. Understand that this is a process. Commit for the long haul and expect that you will make progress in baby steps. The key is to be gentle, persistent, and willing to find opportunities to raise the subject again and again.
Next week Part 2- Getting Your Own Emotional House in Order.

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