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It Never Happens At The Right Time

It Never Happens At The Right Time

By Bart Astor  

A colleague wrote to me recently apologizing for her delay in getting back to me and explained that she had a family emergency she had to take care of. Well of course that would be no problem, I said. I learned later that the emergency was about her mother and that she was thrust into having to care for her. 

Isn’t that the way it so often happens? Rarely do we have the time we need to take care of all the things we need to do when our parent or spouse suddenly takes a turn for the worse and needs immediate care. No, I’m not talking about emergency care – for that you call 911, try to stabilize the patient, and stay out of the way of the medical professionals. 

I’m talking about the all too common experience of your loved one needing to be cared for immediately. I’m talking about the time your mother is taken to the hospital, will spend a few days there, and will get released with one or two days notice. It’s about the time your father falls (and can’t get up) and you or your mother find him on the floor. For neither of these is there a life-threatening issue. But you, as the likely primary caregiver, are faced with the immediacy of making sure nothing happens to him that would be life threatening. 

As my colleague explained when dealing with her mother’s situation, she felt overwhelmed. That’s exactly what happens. And that’s what I want to talk about in this blog. 

How it comes about doesn’t matter that much. The point is that very often with aging parents you are faced with a reality you’ve not faced before. And you don’t have a lot of time to make all the necessary arrangements. 

Here are a few things you need to do right now, before you’re thrust into making major decisions, whether they’re about your parent, your spouse, or even yourself.

 Have the talk. Know what you need to know before anything happens. That includes knowledge of the person’s business affairs (accounts, insurance, etc.) as well as his or her wishes regarding care.

Get your legal affairs in order. Make sure you or someone has access to bank accounts and such. Most important, be certain there is someone with the legal authority to make decisions on the caregivee’s behalf. That is especially critical if there are no blood relatives or a recognized spouse. 

Know how you’ll share the burden. Have all the parties lined up who are the key players and be sure you have a way to communicate with each. And know how you’ll split up the work. Long distance caregiving has challenges, but can be done, especially if there is a caregiver who can handle the onsite responsibilities. 

Talk with the person you’ll be caring for. Be totally transparent in everything you do. Do not make decisions for someone but rather, with someone (as long as there is no issue about competence). If you disagree with the person’s wishes, you can say so. But do not attempt to overrule someone’s wishes. Remember, always, that you are dealing with an adult, not with a child. Adults have the right to make their own decisions even if you disagree with those decisions. You’ll want the same right when your times comes. 

Planning ahead for situations like these can be lifesavers – literally. In addition, it can save a mountain of angst for you and your family. Small steps you can take now will prevent the giant fall.


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Bart Astor

Bart Astor at Bart Astor
Bart Astor is a recognized expert in life’s transitions and eldercare. His book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices about Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle, and Pursuing Your Dreams, was released in May, 2013 and was #1 in Amazon’s retirement planning category for 6 consecutive weeks and a Washington Post best seller. His unexpected personal journey led him to write his best-selling book, Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, now in its second printing and critically regarded for being today’s must-have healthcare resource. Bart has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” PBS’s “MarketPlace,” Ric Edelman’s “The Truth About Money,” AARP Radio, and Boomer’s Rock radio. His perspective comes from personal experience, both good and bad, and sometimes that’s what matters most.