Caring for a loved one: Where to begin

When the time comes for you to become a caregiver to a loved one, figuring out what needs to be addressed can seem overwhelming. Here are some guidelines to help you and your family navigate the issues surrounding being a caregiver.
The Basics

  • Do you know your loved one’s wishes? Talk with them regarding their health situation and the prognosis. Decide what ways you can work together on their health issues.
  • Do you know and have access to important documents? You will need to know how to access items such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, insurance information, safe deposit boxes, advance directives and wills or trusts. Now is a good time to gather all important paperwork together, including passwords and keys. You may also wish to consider having your name added to bank accounts or safe deposit boxes or ask for information on how to access them, should the need arise.
  • Do you know who else can assist in caring for your loved one? Create a list of all of the items your loved one will need help with, both now and in the near future. Then create a list of family members, friends, neighbors or community resources that may be able to help. Check with local agencies to see what resources are available for caregivers for respite care or adult day care. Try and get a plan together before you need it.
  • How will you take care of yourself? Develop a plan for creating time each day to do something you enjoy. Check into joining a support group if you feel it will help you during this time as a caregiver.

Level of Care

  • What kind of care does your loved one need now? How will that change in the future? Talk with your loved one about the different types of care that are available, including in-home care, assisted living and residential care. Find out your loved one’s thoughts regarding the type of care they want as their situation progresses. You may wish to hire someone to come and provide a professional assessment of your loved one’s needs.
  • With professional assistance (i.e., a home health aide or skilled nurse) could your loved one remain in their home? Look into the various types of help available to you and your loved one for in-home care and see if they may be right for you. Take some time to go through the house, room by room, and make notes of repairs or modifications that may need to be made for your loved one’s comfort and safety.
  • Would an assisted living facility be a better option for your loved one? Research assisted living facilities in your area to find out more about the features they have and the services they provide. Schedule a time for you and your loved one to visit a few assisted-living facilities.
  • Is your loved one’s condition such that they will likely need skilled nursing or a nursing home in the future? Has he or she been diagnosed with a condition that might require specialized care? Talk with your loved one’s doctors regarding their recommendations for care, now and in the future. Should his or her physician recommend a more specialized level of care, contact facilities that provide the level of care needed to learn more about your options.

Insurance & Finances

  • What are the costs to provide care? Begin calling the types of providers you are considering for care and get estimates. Try to estimate your family’s costs based on your projected length of your loved one’s stay.
  • Is your loved one eligible for Medicare or MediCal? What do they cover? Look into MediCal and see if there are coverage options provided by them. If you loved one has Medicare, review their coverage to see which programs or services they might cover.
  • Does your loved one have private health insurance? If your loved one has private insurance, locate their insurance information and review their coverage information to see what services they may cover.
  • Does your loved one have a long-term care insurance policy? Do they need one? If your loved one has purchased a long-term care policy, locate the policy information and review the coverage. If they do not have long-term care insurance, research and get estimates for coverage.

Legal Matters

  • Does your loved one have an advance directive in place? If your loved one has an advance directive, locate the documents and store them somewhere they are easily found. If he or she does not have an advance directive, do some research and discuss options with your loved one.
  • Does your loved have a power of attorney?  If your loved one has a power of attorney, locate the documents. If not, research power of attorney and the procedures involved, and then discuss options with your loved one.
  • Does your loved one have a will in place? If so, locate the documents and store them in a secure place. If not, get advice from an estate attorney and discuss options with your loved one.
  • Is your loved one currently capable of making his or her own decisions? If not, speak with an eldercare or family attorney and discuss options with your loved one and other family members.
  • Has your loved one expressed any final wishes after his or her death? If arrangements have been made, locate the documents and store them in a secure place. If not, research funeral and memorial service option as well as cemeteries and creation services. Discuss options with your loved one.