Most of us wait until a crisis occurs before we start thinking about the caregiving issues facing our parents, such as choosing a convalescent home or home health care. But making on-the-spot, high-stakes decisions while your emotions are working overtime almost always results in poor, uninformed choices.
There are a number of proactive steps that all families should take to make sure older family members receive the best possible healthcare when a crisis hits. Preparing in advance is also a good way to prevent potential conflict between you and your siblings. When your parents are not in a position to act for themselves, no one will have to “guess” as to what they want.
Here are the things each of your parents should do:
Prepare and sign a living will (also known as an advance directive) so that everyone will know what they want regarding end-of-life decisions. Your local hospital can provide a copy, or call Aging with Dignity for their easy-to-understand Five Wishes Living Will at 1.888.5WISHES (1.888.594.7437).
Prepare and sign a durable power of attorney for healthcare. This is broader than a living will. It empowers someone your parents trust to make healthcare decisions on their behalf should they become incompetent.
Make a list of all of their physicians and identify the hospital of their choice in the event of an emergency. Ask your parents to share this list with you and other family members.
Play through “if” scenarios with the family, by asking and answering questions such as:
If you need to enter a convalescent home, which facility to do you prefer?
If you have a stroke or break your hip, what rehabilitation or nursing home facility would you like to go to for your recuperation?
If you can’t get around and manage on your own but can still remain at home, what kind of services would you like to help you?
To help with your parents with their “if” scenarios, take them to visit some assisted living, rehabilitation and nursing home facilities while they are well, so they can decide which they’d like if they ever need one. Interview home health agencies and find out what services are available from the local Area Agency on Aging (1.800.677.1116) or from their local church, synagogue or senior care agency. Your parents should then make a list of their top choices with contact information for each.
5. Create a “Rainy Day Folder” for all of their directives and the results of the research done in steps 3 and 4. Ask them to make a duplicate folder for the family member to whom they’ve given durable power of attorney for healthcare.
Unplanned decisions are uninformed decisions, and in the heat of a crisis, they are rarely in anyone’s best interest.
The bottom line:
Being prepared in the event of a health crisis can make everything run more smoothly for all members of the family.
To ensure that older family members’ wishes are acted on, they should prepare and sign a living will and durable power of attorney, make a list of physicians and identify the hospital of choice, as well as run through “if” scenarios to help with decision making.