The National Family Caregiver Association says that in any given year, 50 million Americans will help take care of a family member who is ill, disabled or aged. It’s a great responsibility, and not one to be taken lightly. In fairness to both the family member who needs you, the rest of your family who also loves them and yourself, you need to assess your own readiness.
Unfortunately, I write from my own experience of staying with my mother years ago after she developed cancer.
Not all of these applied to me, but everybody needs to consider the questions.
* Will you be the only one taking care of the ill or elderly person?
Nobody can do it all. You’re not a one-person home care service. It’s neither fair nor practical to expect somebody to handle everything by themselves. That’s especially true if you have other responsibilities such as working at a job, running a business and taking care of children. Unfortunately, many elderly and ill people don’t have lots of family members available locally. But, if nothing else, you have to sleep yourself.
* What medications does your loved one take?
This can get complicated, especially with diseases that require lots of prescriptions. Write down the names of each one, and the dosage and their schedules. Organize that schedule into series of boxes that can be checked off as each prescription is taken.
* Is your loved one able to get around in their home?
Is their home set up with stability bars? If they just became disabled, maybe such bars and railings need to be installed? Do they use a wheelchair? A cane or walker? Are there any barriers that need to be removed or modified? What about lighting at night? Can they easily and safely reach their bathroom in the middle of the night? If not, they need a portable toilet next to their bed.
* Do they have medical insurance or Medicare?
You’ll need to have all that information and their cards ready and available any time they get medical care. Have their insurance agent’s name, phone number and email address handy. And the address of the nearest Social Security office, and all Medicare contact information through telephone, website and email.
* Are they wearing some kind of medical alert or monitoring device?
This is critical, especially if they spend any time alone, even if it’s just in their own bedroom late at night. They can press a button to signal the company they’re in trouble, setting off alarms to wake you up and calling 911 for you.
My sister arranged to have one for my mother, and I kicked myself for not thinking of it first. During the tests, it set off a loud noise that would wake up the house, and called the company.
As it turned out, when my mother did have problems, it was during periods when somebody was available, but knowing that she could signal for help throughout the night allowed me to sleep better.
* What is your loved one’s diet?
Can you cook for them, preparing foods they enjoy? Are those foods nourishing them? How much time will you have to spend shopping? Do they require fruits and vegetables from a farmer’s market or Whole Foods?
* Do they have any trusts or wills?
If so, who will be the executor of the estate? Do they have any particular wishes for their funeral? Is their lawyer available to answer questions?
Caring for a loved one who’s in such bad shape is not anything I’d wish on anyone. I’m just grateful that, up until the final few months of her life, my mother was able to live alone, take care of herself and enjoy a full life in the house she loved.
I’m also grateful I was able to be there, because it was just coincidence I happened to be there and available, having retired from my day job nine months before that. My sister would have done a better job, but she lives in Boston, so the traveling back and forth was a strain on her.
Also, I hope I’ll never have to put any of my loved ones through a similar experience. Here’s to the advances in medicine that will allow us to live healthy, live forever, or pretty close to it.
Take care of your health now.
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