How to Create a Caregiving Plan in 3 Simple Steps
By Amy Goyer
Whether you are suddenly thrust into a caregiving role for a family member or friend, or you’ve been a long-time caregiver, it’s never too late to create or adjust your caregiving plan. Caregiving can be unpredictable as health needs and abilities change over time, and that’s why it’s good to have a process and a plan to go back to. It helps you quickly pinpoint where changes can and need to be made. This three-step process will help you stay on track over and over again.
1. Evaluate and Prioritize Needs: Start by thoroughly assessing your loved ones’ health, safety and quality of life needs, both now and how they might evolve in the future. Are health conditions treated adequately? Are they getting exercise and quality nutrition? Are modifications to their home needed to keep them safe? Do they have access to transportation? Are they getting plenty of socialization or are they increasingly isolated (which poses both physical and mental health risks)? You can get help with a needs assessment from your local area agency on aging (go to www.eldercare.gov), a geriatric care manager or aging life care specialist.
Your evaluation may point to the need for new medical or hospice care, more caregiving assistance, a change in living situation or an increase in activities. Determine where there are gaps and prioritize what needs to change.
Also consider finances and legal issues. In terms of a caregiving budget, what are your loved ones’ existing and potential sources of income and assets? Do they have long-term care insurance, veterans benefits, public benefits (such as Social Security, Medicaid, TANF, housing assistance), pensions, investments or savings that can help pay for care? Are you or other family members able to contribute financially? Also consider other resources that may be helpful, such as properties, automobile, medical and safety equipment. You’ll need to make sure your loved ones have all of their legal affairs in order as well, including advanced directives, powers of attorney, and wills or trusts.
2. Build a Caregiving Team: Pull together a team of people who can help address the needs, in addition to yourself. Examine yours and other family members’ abilities, skills, interests, other responsibilities and strengths. You’ll find that people generally fall into two categories: hands-on caregivers who can provide direct care and those who are more comfortable helping with hands-off things like finances, housework, organizing, running errands etc. Long-distance caregiving team members can still help with key things like online research, calling regularly, managing finances and periodic visits.
Your team can go beyond family members to include friends, neighbors, volunteers, paid caregivers and social service agencies (like adult daycare services), professionals like a financial advisor or accountant, lawyer, medical personnel and therapists (physical, speech, occupations, massage, music or activities therapists). As a caregiver for my Dad, who lives with me and has Alzheimer’s, some team members help me with sorting mail, housecleaning and yard care, or running my errands, which frees me up to focus on him.
Be prepared for your team to evolve over time. Open communication, clear roles and lots of appreciation will help your caregiving team run more smoothly.
3. Prepare for Crises: Inevitably as you care for loves ones there will be ups and downs. Plan for how you will handle a health crisis (like a fall or hospitalization), financial crisis (funds run out or checks are not received), housing crisis (fire or natural disaster, loss of electricity, appliance failure or housing becomes unsafe) or care provider crisis (your helpers cancel at the last minute or quit without notice). How will your team be notified and who will step in? Are funds set aside to handle the budget? If you are working while caregiving, what is your back-up plan for either covering your work or your caregiving responsibilities if you have a crisis at work? If you are suddenly needed to focus on your loved ones, who will care for your home, family, pets or finances?
Once you’ve worked through these three basic steps, communicate your plans to key family members or friends, financial advisors and lawyers as appropriate. Periodically re-evaluate your loved ones’ needs and resources, your team members’ roles and your back up plans. You’ll feel more confident and will support your most important skill as a caregiver: being resilient despite the roller coaster of caregiving.
Amy Goyer is a caregiving expert with over 35 years of experience advocating for and caring for older adults. She has also been a family caregiver her entire adult life and is currently caregiving for her 93-year-old father who has Alzheimer's and lives with her. She is a paid spokesperson for the HEALTHY ESSENTIALS® Program.
©Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2017