One day your elderly relative may be out and about, shopping, visiting with friends and enjoying her day. The next, she may slip and fall, injuring herself. Suddenly, your formerly independent and robust senior family member is in need of care and extended medical attention.
By preparing ahead of time, you and your loved one will be better able to handle sudden changes and care needs.
Have a discussion with your relative about how they would like you to handle major health changes and health-related decisions if they are not capable of doing it on their own in the future. Have them fill out a health-care proxy form to keep in your records. Another important form is a HIPPA document, which will enable physicians to discuss health-related matters with you that would otherwise be protected by privacy laws. Medical power of attorney forms are also a good idea.
Create an index card system or binder to organize phone numbers, addresses and the names of your relative's physicians. Include information about prescriptions, allergies, recent tests, as well as their most recent blood pressure, cholesterol and weight information.
Health Insurance Coverage
Keep copies of both the fronts and backs of all your relative's current health insurance cards, including Medicare and Medicaid cards, private health insurance cards, prescription health cards, dental insurance and vision care cards. Make calls to the companies every six months to verify coverage.
When the senior family member does not have a lot of health coverage, consider adding them to your own private health insurance. Apply to local, state and federal agencies to gain or increase health care coverage before a sudden health change occurs.
To help your relative through a sudden change, you should also be well versed in their financial situation. Keep copies of paperwork regarding bank accounts, investments, safety deposit boxes, regular income, federal and state taxes. Organize a file with the names of professionals including tax preparers, accountants and attorneys.
Explore Local Social Services
The National Council on Aging provides a comprehensive guide to finding benefits and elder care assistance, including utility assistance and housing options, on the Web site Benefitscheckup.org.
Compile a list of phone numbers and contacts for future elder care services including Meals on Wheels, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Visiting Nurse's Association. If your elderly relative is hospitalized, a hospital social worker should be available to provide you with referrals to local agencies including the VNA.
Also keep a list that includes contact information for the local Council on Aging, family caregiver support groups, geriatric care managers, and home health care aides and nursing assistants.
Your Rights at Work
While making preparations related to care giving for a senior family member, also verify information related to your rights at work. Review your company's policy regarding sudden vacations and leaves of absence. Your employer, depending on how many employees it has, may also be required to provide you with up to 12 weeks off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The FLMA does cover those situations in which you need to care for an "immediate family member" (including a parent) who has a "serious health condition."
Keep in mind that you will need to have savings to cover lost income during this time unless you have enough sick time accrued, or you also have short term disability coverage through your employer.
By preparing ahead of time, you will be able to provide emotional support without stressing over the details.