By Annabel James, Founder of Age Space
Supporting or caring for elderly parents and relatives unfortunately doesn’t come with a manual; neither is it something most of us prepare for, despite the fact that it will come to most of us in some shape or form.
Elderly care and the decisions that may need to be made are labyrinthine and complicated. Care is central to everything, but it’s wrapped up with financial and legal issues, practical every day concerns, and of course strong emotions. All of this becomes magnified if decisions need to be made fast in a medical emergency or sadly the death of a lifetime spouse or partner.
The good news is that even a tiny bit of preparation and planning beforehand can make a difference. There are things you can and should do that will make decisions easier to support parents and relatives to live happily and independently for as long as possible.
What does the future look like?
A good start point are three questions to discuss with parents and relatives:
- Where would you like to live
- What care would you like if you need it
- How will you/us pay for it
These are not for the faint-hearted and most probably not casual conversation over Sunday lunch. They may also start to change the relationship between you and your parents as you start to guide them as they have you. But, the answers will start to create a plan for the future whether that be maintaining the family home or downsizing; hiring the live-in carers that come so highly recommended from friends, or a bed in the best care home in the locality; balancing the desire to leave something for the grandchildren with potential care costs.
Alongside these conversations there are also practical priorities: have your parents written a Will or a Letter of Wishes? One in three of us die without a Will which at best leaves a muddle for someone else to sort out, and at worse, years of untangling and administration.
Encouraging parents and relatives to arrange a Lasting Power of Attorney is a second priority. Putting this in place will ensure that financial affairs and health concerns can be managed to their wishes should they lose the mental capacity to make their own decisions. This may sound extreme, but at its simplest form if one half of a couple has always managed the finances and bank accounts, and goes into hospital and is unable to access funds, no-one can even pay the milkman.
The third priority is to get a bit more involved in your parents lives. In a good way. Our checklist includes:
- Is there a spare set of front door keys and do they need a keysafe?
- Make a list of their medication and put it on the fridge door
- A list of contact details – the GP, cleaner, gardener, neighbour
- Do you need to have access to their medical records – become a proxy?
- Should they have a personal alarm pendant if they are starting to fall over
- Does the house need some adaptations – grab rails, wet room, fewer rugs?
- Should they still be driving? What might the alternatives be?
Some of this may be easier to achieve than others. All of it may take some time to put in place, and you may need to call on a bit of help; perhaps a neighbour or friend can lend an advisory word or two?
So, whilst caring for elderly parents doesn’t come with a manual (yet) hopefully this short guide to practical things you can do may help set you on the right path so that if the time comes when decisions need to be made quickly, you’re already have some understanding of their wishes, how they want to live, and how to make it happen. It will make their lives and yours much much easier.
Annabel James is the founder of www.agespace.org the one-stop online resource for anyone supporting or caring for elderly parents or relatives.