We take on many roles when we need to take care of aging family members, from driving them to appointments, managing their schedules, reviewing health insurance coverage, and making sure the bills get paid to helping them navigate health challenges. By necessity, we also must be prepared to advocate on their behalf during a time when they are vulnerable, as reported by AARP in “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents.”
That means knowing what they want for care and quality of life, and making sure those wishes are followed. It also includes helping loved ones manage finances and legal matters, and making certain they receive appropriate and high-quality services and treatments when needed.
Here are a few important skills, many of which you may already possess:
- Observation. We’re typically too busy or tired to notice small changes, but sometimes the slightest shift in a loved one’s ability, health, moods, safety or needs is a sign of a larger problem or health challenge. You need to catch those changes early to make a difference. Reviewing the services they’re receiving and adjusting any sub-standard care is another big responsibility.
- Organization. There’s a lot of moving parts in a caregiving plan. Organization is a real challenge. As an advocate, be sure you can easily access all legal documents you need, like power of attorney for finances and health care.
- Communication. It’s always an important skill for building relationships, especially with those who help care for your loved ones, like attorneys, aides and doctors. Try to be respectful and set your emotions aside when you’re advocating for a loved one. And know that listening is just as important as speaking in effective communication. Be clear, concise and to the point—and show your gratitude.
- Hold a Family Care Meeting. At Family Estate Planning Law Group, we strongly encourage our clients to hold a Family Care Meeting to outline their estate plan for loved ones, fiduciaries and the clients’ estate planning team (including financial professionals, accountants, etc.). This ensures that everyone understands the clients’ wishes, as well as their roles and responsibilities. It’s a great way to communicate before a crisis. While a Family Care Meeting works best when held before a medical or other crisis, it can be helpful in the midst of one, as well. You can still take the time to coordinate caring for an aging loved one with siblings or other trusted loved ones and get the information you need from attorneys, financial professionals and others involved in your loved one’s care and estate planning.
- Questioning. Ask questions! But be prepared and do a lot of work gathering information. Educate yourself about your loved one’s health conditions and financial or legal matters. Don't stop until you’re satisfied you understand the answers you receive. Take notes you can refer back to later when additional questions arise.
- Tenacity. As a loved one’s advocate, you must have their best interests at heart and take the job seriously. When caregiving knocks you off your feet, get back up. Resilience is key, but also make sure you ask for the help you need from siblings or other loved ones. An advocacy team is better than just one advocate and sharing the burden can help minimize the stress of caring for a loved one.
If you’re able to find a caregiver’s support group, you’ll benefit from the help and experience of others facing similar challenges. Also, speak with an elder law attorney. After all, what is an elder law attorney but a professional advocate? He or she will have a great deal of experience and insight to share.
For more information on this and other elder law issues, explore our website and contact us to schedule your consultation today!
Reference: AARP (November 1, 2016) “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents”