Preparation Pays Off
By: Jane Mahoney, Older Americans Act Consultant, Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources
During the years I worked as a Caregiver Coordinator I talked with caregivers about home safety, caregiver burnout, self-care for the caregiver and also ways to prepare for the future. Throughout that time, I also watched my father’s health decline, and in turn watched my mother become a full- time caregiver.
As I visited with my mother about various things related to caregiving I slowly realized that I too had become a caregiver. Once I accepted this role I decided it was time to start paying attention to the many things I had encouraged other caregivers to do, mainly getting legal paperwork in order. I had never actually talked to my parents about their healthcare wishes, whether they have a will or powers of attorney, where they stand financially in case someone needs nursing home care or what type of insurance they have. I decided to start addressing these issues with my mom whenever we would visit my parents in South Dakota.
When I was only a “daughter”, a trip to visit my parents was like a mini-vacation. Mom would have a pan of caramel rolls waiting along with other favorite foods. I would kick back on the couch and let the grandparents play with my kids and just enjoy the visit. When I added “caregiver” to my role, the visits began to have more of a purpose than just a relaxing time. I began to talk with my mother about the not-so-fun topics of estate planning, advance directives and long-term care. I discovered that it is a lot easier to encourage other people to do these things than to do them yourself. I returned from these visits tired, frustrated and a bit sad. Caregiving truly is a stressful thing.
During that year I learned a lot about my parents. I learned that they have POA papers in place. I learned the names and locations of all their insurance policies. I understood their feelings regarding healthcare and end-of-life issues and I helped them start inquiring about financial assistance in case there is a need for long term care. Discussing these topics was not fun and there were many times I wondered if I was making a big deal out of nothing. I thought it might be easier to just wait and see if we would really need that information and if so, figure things out at that time.
And then I got that dreaded call - my dad was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and chronic heart failure. I made an emergency trip to South Dakota to help my worried mother. As I drove across southern Minnesota I thought about the things we would need – POA papers, insurance policies and answers to questions about resuscitation. I was so relieved that I had taken the time and effort to go over these things earlier with my parents. Dealing with the decisions and emotions of Dad’s current situation was stressful enough by itself. I could not imagine the added stress of having to fumble through files searching for legal documents or not knowing anything about how to finance a nursing home placement.
As it turned out, all those unpleasant conversations and planning for the future really did pay off! Regardless of how uncomfortable it was to talk to my mom about advance directives, end-of-life decisions and personal finances, I was glad I was bold enough to do so before the crisis literally hit home.
My dad survived the pneumonia but was too weak to return home to mom. We placed him in a nursing home for rehabilitation with hopes of moving back home. Watching my mom say goodbye that first night was hard, but my dad adjusted beautifully to life in the local nursing home and my mother fought her struggles with loneliness and guilt with dignity and continued to move forward.
Ah, the life of a caregiver.
GWAAR Copyright, 2018