By Guest Poster Kay Brandsford
I was the primary adult family caregiver to my parents for over five years. It’s easy to recognize all the things I could have done better in hindsight, but I sure tried to do the best that I could with the information I had when decisions needed to made.
What I regret the most was how much time I spent organizing and providing care instead of spending time with my parents. Early on, my parents certainly did not want one of their adult children involved in their lives. They felt like they were managing well. However, bill payments were missed, they forgot follow-up medical appointments, and they continued to drive after their driving licenses were revoked.
I was anxious to jump in and help and when things started to fail, I spent hour upon hour getting a handle on their accounts, assets, and locating documents. I was going to all of their medical appointments and doing a lot of research in hopes of being prepared for the next issue.
I wish that I had called in more help so that I could have visited with my parents and enjoyed their company and the things they loved instead of being the adult family caregiver.
I feel the most angst about the last year of my mom’s life when she was in and out of hospice care … the palliative kind … which is now very common to help older adults live comfortably for issues that medical interventions can’t cure. A hospice doctor would visit her in the memory care community, but there was also a community doctor, and some minor issues seemed to keep getting lost between the two doctors. So I became the squeaky wheel at the nurse’s station.
Every month, I was spending several hours trying to chase down these minor health care issues which took away time from visiting my mom. I was at her community, but not even in the presence of my mom. Over the course of the year, maybe it would have cost a few thousand dollars to have someone else take her out for the medical follow-ups, chase down and get answers to the minor issues that needed resolution. Mom had the means to pay for it, and I should have used it so I could have been her daughter.
Yes, a spouse, son or daughter should be counted on to do those things. However, I am still raising kids, running a business, and was trying to lead a life too. Now that mom is gone, I wish I had a do-over and instead spent the time with her, not on managing her care needs.
It is easy for me to recognize this in other caregivers. They are jumping at every chance to help and running themselves into the ground. In a report found on the National Center for Caregiving, spousal caregivers (aged 66-96) have a 63% higher mortality rate than noncaregivers of the same age. Hospitalization of an elderly spouse was found to be associated with an increased risk of caregiver death. Caregiving has its own health risks and often the caregiver fails to recognize the important of tending to their own well-being.
It’s time to put the life mask on yourself first.
We are familiar with the analogy to an emergency on the airplane. We are instructed to put our oxygen mask on first, then help others. It applies to caregiving too.
Two professions that can help you maintain that marital or familiar role include:
Aging Life Care Managers: These are typically nurses or social workers who can help manage and navigate medical issues and quickly resolve care needs. I hired them to help me find the right memory community for my mom and then during critical incidents to include my ER visit when mom broke a hip and the doctor demanded I lift the “Do Not Resuscitate” order to operate.
Aging Life Care Managers are skilled at helping understand, navigate, and minimize the amount of time you are spending managing care needs. They will help find the right doctor, know the right questions to ask, and resolved issues in minutes that I had spent hours trying to resolve. If you are caring for someone with a long-term progressive disease, I hope you will consider having an initial consult even if just to learn a few options on how to make your caregiving easier or tools to minimize discomfort for your loved one.
To set up an initial consultation with a Care Manager, call 703-237-9048.
Daily Money Managers (DMM): These professionals take care of the day-to-day finances and pay bills, manage medical claims, and help protect individuals from fraud and scams. I was the POA and the Trustee so I easily stepped into this role for my parents. However, for those families that don’t live near mom and dad and want a local advocate, a DMM is a practical solution.
DMMs will visit your loved one in their home and include them in the bill pay process. Early on in any disease, purpose and meaning is very important to the individual. Most engagements might start with a monthly visit to review and balance the checkbook and to confirm that bills are being paid in a timely manner. Without fail, I have been able to help eliminate nefarious credit card charges and protect against scams posing as charitable contributions. For those living in their homes, the scheduling of home services and maintenance are handled as well as tax organization. If the client requests, we always copy the adult children or loved one with any report visits and summarize the monthly cash flow. To find a local DMM near you, visit www.AADMM.com
There were so many things I learned on my journey, but, at the end of the day, I might have better served me and my mom if I brought in more help to handle certain aspects of her care.
Are there resources you could use that would allow you to enjoy the time you have with your loved one instead of spending all of your time managing their care?
Kay H. Bransford is a Daily Money Manager and the best-selling author of MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life. She has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, The Huffington Post, and BBC, and is a life preparedness evangelist who focuses on serving 50+ adults. The company Kay founded, MemoryBanc, received an “Older-Adult Focused Innovation” award from AARP Foundation; her Dealing with Dementia blog was recognized as a “Top Alzheimer’s Blog” by Healthline in 2016 and 2017; and her workbook was named a “Book of the Year” byToday’s Caregiver.