Planning Ahead for Eldercare

Today, more than 44 percent of Americans still have one parent living when they reach the age of 60. Chances are that you will become responsible for the care of one or more aging parent. Though you might not like to think about it, a day will come when you, or your aging parent, may be faced with reduced mobility, medical problems, loss of independence, or a serious medical crisis. Careful planning now can prevent unnecessary emotional turmoil, anxiety, and frustration when that day arrives.  

Begin this important discussion now, while the aging member of your family is still able to communicate clearly about his or her hopes and desires. Has your elder made any long-term plans for the future? What are these plans? Does he or she want to live at home with assistance, move in with a family member, or live in an assisted-living residence? Which family members does he or she want to assist with long-term care issues?  What kind of financial and legal arrangements have already been made? What financial resources are available to pay for elder care? Respect the person’s wishes and opinions, even if they are different from your own.

If this dialog is difficult, perhaps because of strained family relationships or because the elder is struggling to remain independent, enlist professional help from an attorney, financial planner, physician, or senior services provider.

Gather all the important information about yourself or your elder in one place: Social Security, passport, and driver’s license numbers; financial information; birth certificate; legal papers; insurance information; Medicare and Medicaid numbers; burial plans; doctors and their phone numbers; a list of medications and medical devices; and contact information for relatives and close friends. If a medical emergency or other crisis arises suddenly, you will quickly be able to access this information.

Find out about the resources available for seniors in your community, and prepare a plan that will allow you or your elder to live in comfort and receive necessary care and assistance. Resources include family and church members, senior centers, home health care agencies, day care or short-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, and local government and charitable agencies and services.

Assess the home environment, looking for situations that might present a hazard for an elderly person, such as slippery walkways, steep stairs, poor lighting, and heavy doors. It may be necessary to make some alterations to the home, such as installing handrails in the bathtub. Develop a system for regularly checking on the elder’s well-being, and a way to communicate if there is an emergency.

Several legal documents can help you ensure that your wishes regarding health care will be carried out if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself. Consult an attorney or legal aid service for help in preparing these documents so that they are valid in Florida.

An Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) instructs others about your medical care if you become unable to make decisions on your own. It becomes effective only under the circumstances specified in the document. An AHCD allows you to appoint a health care agent (also known as a health care proxy). Your health care agent can be a spouse, family member, close friend, or other representative who will make sure that your wishes and expectations are met. This person will have legal authority to make decisions regarding your medical care if you are no longer able to speak for yourself.  An AHCD also allows you to give written directions about your future health care, life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious, pain relief, and organ donation. The AHCD can specify both what you want and what you do not want in specific situations. Signing a legal document such as an AHCD does not take any authority away from you. You can override the decisions of your health care agent or change the AHCD as long as you are competent to speak for yourself.

Family members can make decisions about your medical care without an AHCD. During a medical crisis however, emotions may run high and family members may not agree on what to do. An AHCD helps to prevent disputes and makes sure your wishes are respected.

A Living Will is a legal document that clarifies your wishes regarding whether to use life support systems to prolong your life and when to withhold or withdraw treatment. When you are hospitalized, the hospital keeps your Living Will on file. Give a copy of your Living Will to your physician and keep a copy with your other legal papers, because close family members may not share your views regarding your medical treatment.

Durable Power of Attorney is a legal document designating another person to act on your behalf in legal and financial matters. This document can be very important when transferring financial assets or applying for Medicaid (Title 19).

A Last Will and Testament is a legal document specifying how you want your assets to be disposed of after your death.

Ask your physician for help in creating a good eldercare plan for your parent or yourself.  A number of agencies and organizations offer information and assistance in caring for seniors:

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