Reimagine Everything: Are You Prepared to Care?

October 20, 2017 • AARP, Columnists

By Ron Mori

I recently had a conversation with my mom that was unlike any other conversation that I have had with her in my life. She’s going to be 90 in two weeks, and she started out the phone conversation by saying she’s going to clean out the garage to make it easy on us.

I asked, “Easy on us?” This was my “in” to having a preplanning conversation regarding her caregiving.

Caregiving conversations are difficult to have no matter how old your loved one is. And if you are like most families, it’s not the right time to have a discussion when you’re facing an unanticipated caregiving situation. So, I’m glad my mom gave me the “in.”

At AARP, we want to be able to help you think about and start caregiving conversations early, before a family crisis. I’ve written about the importance of preplanning when it comes to caregiving, and November is the perfect time to start or reaccess your family caregiving plans with loved ones.

We really are all in this together, so we should include young adults in family caregiving discussions as well. The “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015” report*, published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, found that nearly 25 percent of caregivers are millennials — between roughly the ages of 20-36. I was amazed to read this statistic, and it hit home the point of having everyone involved in the conversation.

How to start? Look for an opening, that “in!” Start with questions like the following:

“I recently read an article in the newspaper about gathering all your important papers. So, I organized mine and filed them in one drawer. Would you like me to help you with yours?”

“Are there too many stairs in your home? Should we look for a single-story home for you? Or, a condo with an elevator?”

Another entry point would be to talk about a family friend or a relative who may be in a similar situation: “Auntie Jane told me that she completed her advanced directives. Have you done yours or thought about getting yours done? I can help you.”

Don’t anticipate what your loved one may say or how he or she may react. It’s most important to start the conversation, which will hopefully be an ongoing discussion. Be open to the responses. Listen carefully, and express your love and concern for your loved one.

If your loved one is open to pursuing the issue, then it’s time to take the next steps in preparing to care. Central to the process is the core value that the wishes of the person to receive the care must be paramount.

The plan should be made with the participation, knowledge and consent of your loved one. A person with a cognitive impairment such as dementia or Alzheimer’s should be able to participate as much as possible.

Determining who should be part of the planning team is next, and the loved one should be asked who to include. The tasks of the team will be to figure out the priorities of the loved one: where to live, nature of care needed. Finances are always difficult to discuss among family members but is at the core of many decisions that will be made around housing, health care and other expenses.

What to do if your loved one doesn’t want to discuss caregiving issues? Don’t give up! Start with small discussions, talk about one aspect of your concerns.

AARP has “Prepare to Care” workbooks available as a guide. The workbooks walk you through the first steps needed to prepare for your role as a caregiver:

  • Start the Conversation
  • Form Your Team
  • Make a Plan
  • Find Support
  • Care for Yourself
  • Resources
  • Goals & Needs Checklist
  • Charts & Checklists
  • Sample Caregiving Plans

For a copy of the workbook, visit aarp.org/caregiving or call (877) 333-5885. I have mine ready for my talk with mom!

*Caregiving Among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Age 50+ Executive Summary. AARP Report. November 2014.

Ron Mori is co-president of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.

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