The steps you should take now if caregiving is in your future

August 3, 2021 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD

At some point in our lives, most of us will take on the role of caregiver for a parent or older family member, spouse or partner, or close friend. The National Alliance for Caregiving’s report Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 found that the number of caregivers (defined as someone caring for an adult or a child with special needs) is increasing. In 2020, an estimated 53 million adults were caregivers, a 20% increase from 43.5 million in 2015. The report also noted that a growing number of younger people are becoming caregivers. Approximately a third of caregivers were 39 or younger and 6% were 23 or younger.

To help ensure you’re as well prepared as possible to take on the role of caregiver when the need arises, start taking these key steps now.

  • Start the discussion sooner rather than later. Talking about a future where a family member or friend needs a caregiver can be a difficult conversation for many people but waiting until the person needs care will leave you rushing to connect with resources and figure out how best to meet their needs. The better plan is to start talking about their preferences, concerns, and wishes well before they’re facing a serious illness, physical limitations, or cognitive issues. It can be helpful to make this a two-way conversation—you explain what you’d like to happen if you were seriously ill or injured, then ask them what plans they would want to have in place if they needed care. And remember, this will be an ongoing conversation as they think about what they want and as their needs change.
  • Gather important paperwork. There are several documents you’ll need as a caregiver, including an advanced health care directive or living will; medical and general powers of attorney; HIPPA authorization; POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment), which tells health care providers what types of care you do and do not want in specific situations; a will; and key information about banking, investment accounts, online bill paying, and social media accounts.
  • Create and maintain a comprehensive medical record: Most older people see more than one physician, take multiple medications, and have records from a lifetime of diagnostic and screening tests, as well as records from hospital stays. To ensure they’re receiving appropriate care, getting needed follow-up testing and care, and lowering the risk of overmedication or medication interactions, you’ll need to create a comprehensive medical record and regularly update it. Some primary care physicians and geriatricians act as their patients’ medical home gather and track these records. A health advisor can also take on this role and create a secure electronic medical record that can be shared with any treating physician.
  • Make home safer and explore other options. Your family member or friend may prefer to remain in their own home as they age. To lower the risk of falls and other potential dangers, go through the house and look for and correct possible trouble spots like stairs and bathrooms. It’s also wise to look into caregiving resources like home health aides, who can supplement the care and companionship you provide and give you respite when needed. There may come a time when home is no longer the best place for your family member or friend, so talk with them now about what they’d like to do if that situation develops and find out what types of assisted living and nursing care resources are available and how much they cost so you can make a financial plan to cover this eventuality.