I first spoke with my parents about their plans for "the future" when Dad retired from his career as a university professor in 1995. Mom had suffered a stroke six years earlier but was still mobile, and Dad was in good health. They had completed advance directives and estate planning.
My caregiving plan was to help them stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. I'd visit three or four times a year, monitor their needs and coordinate with my sisters to provide support as needed. I knew their needs would increase gradually over time.
But about five years ago Mom's health began to decline rapidly, just as Dad was showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. Clearly, they required a major step-up in assistance. My caregiving plan had to change.
Since then I've adapted my work to be more flexible. When simply being near my parents wasn't enough, I moved in with them. We've dealt with multiple hospitalizations, nursing facilities, in-home care and, recently, my mom's death. In my book, " Juggling Work and Caregiving," I described our caregiving plan this way:
"Every time I think we have a solid plan in place, our health or financial circumstances change. That means our caregiving plan is a moving target, involving a constant process of re-evaluating and adapting. The one constant is this: At every step, my parents' health, desires and quality of life are the primary drivers."
You might wonder: Why make a plan if it just changes? Because a plan is a framework that guides us and keeps us on track. You can always make new decisions and adjust plans, but there is a lot less stress when we take a bit of time to stop, breathe, evaluate and get a clear picture of needs and resources (both our loved ones' and ours as caregivers). The clarity of a caregiving plan can also help us feel better about asking for help - planning makes it clear that no one can do it all.
Join me on the AARP Live! TV show on Feb. 20 at 10pm ET, when I'll share five steps you can take to create a caregiving plan. I'll also discuss other tips for caregivers, such as how to deal with grief and loss. Submit your questions by calling 877-731-6733, sending a tweet to @aarplive or using #aarplive. I hope you'll join us.
Photo: Amy Goyer
Amy Goyer is AARP's family, caregiving and multigenerational issues expert. She splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Phoenix, where she is caring for her dad, who lives with her. She is the author of AARP's Juggling Work and Caregiving . Follow Amy on Twitter @amygoyer and on Facebook.