Sure You’re Not a Caregiver Now, But …

My dad with us kids. Yes, it was the 1970s.

I’ve worked on caregiving issues for AARP for five years now. I started as an erstwhile online producer for AARP.org wanting to bring great family content to the website. (Read: wanted to boost sex and pets content since they get the most clicks, right?)

A few months into my tenure here, I was asked to help overhaul the online Caregiving Resource Center. At the time, being a late thirty-something singleton living in Washington,  D.C., I really didn’t know a lot about caregiving … or so I thought.

Sure my parents were aging and had their share of health issues. But it wasn’t until dad had the first heart attack, then the second, that I sat up and paid attention to what was REALLY happening: I hadn’t a clue of what to do. Neither did my siblings. Why would we? I was busy with my life and they with theirs.

Then the boom. Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. What just happened?

Thirty-somethings and forty-somethings, I’m here to tell you: it will happen, it will surprise you, you will be upset. No matter how much you think you’re ready, you’re not. Don’t kid yourself that you are. I’m not trying to be Debby Downer. Be assured there are things you (or you and your sibs) can do now:

  1. Talk to your parents about their wishes. Yes, it’s creepy and crude. Trust me I know. But it’s much better than not knowing. Do they want to be cremated? Buried? Do they have advanced directives? (Heck, what is an advance directive?) Do they want you to pull the plug? Once all these things have been decided, document it. Yes, pay the $100 for the lawyer. You and yours will be better off when the time comes many, many, many years from now. (Nice plug for an upcoming chat on this very topic.)
  2. Have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and be ready when Plans A through C won’t happen according to plan. Can you telework? Who will watch your pets? You need to have a team to spring into action so if you should need to leave in the middle of the night you can, without worry.
  3. Know your parent(s) doctors, insurance information, Social Security number, allergies and medications. Most important, right now get your parents to sign a HIPAA waiver with ALL of their doctors Why? It’s a sure bet that, if should something happen to one parent or loved one, the other one will not have the wits about them to have this information or remember everything. You need to have it ready. Trust me.
  4. If you live far away from your parents/loved ones, have a credit card that’s used just for emergency travel. But, Patti, you say, that’s next to impossible to have with this economy. I know. Really, I do. But you have to. Airlines are in no mood to give you the medical emergency discount anymore so don’t expect it. You might need to pay up to $2,000 for a last-minute ticket and rental car. Suck it up and do it. You won’t regret it.
  5. Find out your employer’s rules for family leave and get to know these four letters: FMLA, which stands for the Family and Medical Leave Act. It will be your friend and protect your job. But know the rules beforehand and hope you never need to use it.

And finally for you:  Buy a long-term care insurance policy NOW. My parents had no such option when they were our age as this insurance is relatively new. Any policy they could buy now wouldn’t be worth it due to their age and premium cost. Before I turned 41, I purchased a policy that’s $656 a year and covers me for $675,000 of care. DO IT!

I don’t want to scare you but I do. It’s reality. It happens. You won’t be 100 percent prepared but getting started with the tips above is a great start. You won’t regret it. (Another plug: We have a great document called Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families that you should download for free.) Also, for you ladies, we have a great campaign called Decide.Create.Share. that helps you plan for your future financial and care needs.

Have I missed something? Let me know in the comments below.