Caregiving Is Too Big a Job to Go It Alone

February 4, 2020 | Wendy Hoey Sheinberg | Trusts & Estates

Although caring for a loved one is a privilege, being a caregiver is not easy. Without proper support, care-giving can consume nearly every moment of life.

Often caregivers shoulder the responsibilities alone, and these responsibilities generally increase over time. Caregivers often feel that asking for help means that they are not being a good child or good parent, and this guilt keeps them from seeking assistance. And many are not aware that there are resources available to assist them.

To make sure you have the ability to provide care for your loved one, you must first get your legal house in order. If you are caring for an adult, you should have, at a minimum, a health care proxy and a power of attorney (also known as “advance directives”) that empower you to act for them. If these documents do not exist and your loved one has the mental capacity, now is the time to meet with an elder law attorney.

If your loved one is now cognitively impaired and does not have adequate advance directives, a guardianship proceeding should be started. Through a guardianship, you can obtain the proper legal authority to make decisions for your loved one. A guardianship proceeding takes place in court, and can take several months to complete. Because of the time involved, guardianship is best addressed before a crisis.

The next step is forming a team. Care-giving responsibilities can be shared among family members. Often, members of a family do not understand how much assistance one family member is providing. The caregiver sometimes feels like they have no life and that they are making sacrifices while their siblings live happy and fulfilling lives. Hard feelings and resentment can build over time, and eventually these feelings can destroy the family relationships. Feeling stressed and overwhelmed can complicate communication. Having a friendly family meeting where family members share information and agree upon a division of labor can help to keep the family intact and can avoid misunderstandings and disagreements.

If a family dynamic is particularly stressful, elder care mediators can offer assistance. Mediators are people who are trained to help people understand each other and to resolve conflicts in a productive manner.

If the physical care-giving and the coordination of care is more than one person can manage, professionals can assist. A geriatric care manager, which is a nurse or social worker who specializes in working with the elderly, can advise on the care needed, and can help assemble a team of caregivers. In addition, there are companies that provide concierge-like services for everything from running errands to driving and accompanying people to medical appointments.

If your loved one is no longer safe at home or needs to downsize, there are many alternatives to nursing homes. Senior housing developments focus on independent living for people over a stated age. The homes or apartments in these developments are generally designed so that people can age in place and will have wheelchair-accessible doorways, entryways, and adaptive bathrooms. Assisted living facilities offer a higher level of care in apartment-style living.

Sometimes, cleaning out the home is a barrier to making the rightsized move. Senior move managers and professional organizers can help. These professionals will work with you in the home to sort through personal effects and furniture. They can help you decide what furniture is appropriate for the new home, and can even help organize tag sales. Your elder law attorney can also work with a knowledgeable real estate attorney on the sale of your home and the purchase of the new residence.

The important message is that you don’t have to go it alone. If you are stressed to the point of exhaustion you cannot do a proper job of care-giving. It isn’t a sign of weakness to reach out to others for help. A good starting point is a knowledgeable and compassionate elder law attorney who can develop advance directives and point the way to the appropriate resources.

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