Proactive Planning Brings Peace of Mind
by LaBrena Friend, LMSW
In 2013, just ten days after I got married, my mom let me know that she had autoimmune hepatitis. Although I did not know, she had been diagnosed a few years earlier, but now things had progressed and she needed a liver transplant. She was only 56. Even though I was working in hospice at the time, neither me nor my siblings had ever discussed with our parents what they wanted if we ever had to make life or medical decisions for them. We never thought it was a discussion we needed to have, especially because our parents were young. We were all paralyzed. I had to go into ‘social work mode’, put aside my shock and sadness and take care of business. Decisions were made on medical proxy, DNR, tube feeding and life support. These were complex and difficult questions that I had regularly addressed professionally, but never dreamed I would have to think about at age 30 with my own mom. My mom passed away six weeks later.
About a year after her passing, I made sure that we had open conversations with my dad. We’d learned our lesson the hard way and I was determined that we would never have to go through the same struggle again. These conversations can be hard to have with your loved ones. I know. But these conversations are not about getting old or sick, they are about empowering your loved ones to direct their future now, when they have the ability to express their wishes and goals and to make decisions for themselves.
The first step is committing to talk about it, to learn about your parents’ priorities as they get older and to make sure that everybody’s feelings are considered in the conversation. In our case, because we were proactive with my dad, he took the next step and had documents drawn up by an attorney, such as his Will and his Power of Attorney. He’s made decisions about his assets and his healthcare and we know what he has chosen. Most importantly, he has shared what is important to him as he ages so we can use that information to guide decisions we might have to make for him in the future.
Most people want to stay in their homes, independently, for as long as possible, but their ability to do so may change as they age. Explore your parents’ feelings about options like retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes and learn what’s available in your area. Many parents express that they do not want to become a burden to their kids. Talking about that enables children to express their vision of how they will care for parents too.
Understanding that needs change over time is critical. While the initial goal may be for family to care for an aging parent, their needs may go beyond any one person’s abilities. It’s easy to say, ‘Yes, I want to take care of them.’ But if they can’t walk, that means that you’re lifting them. It also means that you might need all types of equipment in your home. It means you might be bathing or assisting with toileting. These are all issues that can be addressed and you may decide you can’t be the sole caregiver. But knowing your parents’ goals in advance can help inform next steps.
Finally, another important aspect to discuss is the financial planning aspect of care. The costs of most in-home care and assisted living facilities are not covered by Medicare. How will your family pay for care? Do your parents have enough assets? Long-term care? How will you make your loved ones wishes possible?
As social workers and case managers at CJFS, we try to help families proactively plan so they don’t find themselves as I did with my mom at 30 years old having to make some really hard decisions. For me, with my dad, it is such a weight off my shoulders and it gives me peace to know what is important to him as he ages. I will use that knowledge to guide me when and if the time comes.
To learn more about planning for the current/future needs of a loved one, email email@example.com or call 205.879.3438.