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Five Tips for Proactively Helping Aging Parents

What your clients should include in a caregiving plan.

We celebrate moms and dads this month and next—the parents who so tirelessly supported us and became our role models for our own parenthood. As members of the sandwich generation—a demographic age group in our mid-30s to mid-50s, today we’re celebrating both raising our own families as well as caring for our aging parents. Just last week my husband and I had dinner with friends when one of them shared that his father-in-law crashed his car onto his neighbor’s lawn and had no recollection of the incident. Thankfully, he escaped with only minor scrapes and bruises and a bill for landscaping repairs.

That opened a flood gate of stories of parents forgetting their medication, sharing the same story three times, noticeable cognitive decline, mood changes and more. Your clients who are part of this sandwich generation will inevitably face this too, as their parents need assistance. Sometimes the need is gradual, but often, health declines happen quickly and catch clients by surprise. They’ll scramble to get answers to questions they didn’t even know existed, and they won’t know where to turn for answers. More and more often, in these times of high stress, clients are turning to their trusted advisors for experience, support and direction.

Make certain your clients aren’t making these very important decisions in crisis mode, if they can avoid it. Taking care of a parent can feel overwhelming. It can impact your client’s family, job, finances and health. To ensure the best care for your clients and their loved ones, you can help them prepare by creating a caregiving plan. This plan provides a framework for your clients to discuss important issues with their parents- all the “what ifs” that may unfold in the future. It outlines their loved one’s wishes and priorities; it assesses their medical, financial, legal and personal needs; and then it organizes all the resources and information that are available to them and their family when the day comes.

Five Tips for Creating Caregiving Plan

Here are five things you need to advise your clients to do to create a caregiving plan:

1. Start the conversation. Suggest your clients start a conversation about what’s important to their parents. Assure your clients that often, the conversation takes more than one approach. It’s a continuous dialogue as their parents grow older and their priorities shift. These conversations are never easy for either party. Have them try starting in a casual setting, such as over a meal or on a walk. Perhaps say, “Mom, I know this isn’t easy to talk about, but I just want to have a discussion about what’s important to you and what you might want should you become ill.”  Their best approach is to try to use open-ended questions, encouraging their parents to talk instead of answering their questions. Advise them to try to be sensitive and open to what’s shared.

2.  Access medical needs. Share with your clients that a good baseline in assessing their loved one’s health and medical needs is to review their ability to perform daily living activities. Do they need help with eating, bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom? Or moving from the bed to a chair? Based on this review, your clients may have more clarity on how best to start to assist their parents. Depending on the situation, their options could include a family member helping out as needed or an outside paid helper, health aide or visiting nurse. You can help by building your own list of trusted elder care managers and geriatric care specialists who already have experience handling these issues and can recommend appropriate resources to your clients.

3. Review finances. Whether your client’s loved one’s medical needs are immediate or in the future, it’s important to be aware of their finances. Clients should know their parents’ sources of income, recurring expenses and assets and liabilities. They should also review and document their Medicare related policies, any long-term care insurance and any cash value life insurance policies that might help pay for medical expenses and supportive care services. They should also be sure that they know the professionals in their parents’ lives, who they may have worked with, such as an accountant, attorney and financial advisor. Here you can help by creating a worksheet or critical information organizer to help your clients collect and organize this information.

4. Prepare legal documents. It’s also important to have the proper legal documents up to date and in place so they can help when needed. These include a durable power of attorney (POA), health care POA, healthcare directive and will.  The health care POA and durable POA should be a priority for caregiving purposes. The health care directive allows your client’s loved one to name a trusted person to make medical decisions for her on her behalf should she become incapacitated, and the durable POA allows a trusted individual to “step into their shoes” for most other legal and financial matters in her life if necessary.

5. Assemble the team. We’ve all heard the saying, “it takes a village,” when it comes to raising your kids. The same goes for taking care of parents. First, your clients probably need to include others in their family. Suggest your clients bring the family together to decide who’s going to be the primary coordinator.  Then they can try to divide up the responsibilities, mindful of matching the skill sets of sibling/family members to the task. Help your client make a list of all the professionals who might be necessary, and share your experience and recommendations when you can. Some spots on the list may start out empty, and you can work with your clients to help them identify potential professionals for those roles as the need arises, or even pro-actively.  The team full team may include various health service providers and professionals as well as a financial advisor, accountant and attorney.

Be Proactive

Taking care of aging parents isn’t easy. By helping your clients to proactively create a caregiving plan, you can be the trusted advisor they have come to rely on.  Your value is only enhanced when you help create a road map for their parents’ future with vital information as well as their parent’s desires.  Creating an actual document or even a virtual vault of their important information will further help them proceed with more confidence when the time comes. Knowing they reached out to their parents for these discussion in good times should provide them and their family with the comfort that they’re making informed decisions regarding what’s most important to them.

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