Helping families understand: The complex issues in family caregiving

Sara M. Barton of The Practical Caregiver  interviewed me on her blog. Below is the interview in its entirety.

I’m looking to inspire and encourage family caregivers to not only provide better care, but to realize that it enhances our own lives to be caregivers. In that spirit, I want to introduce you to Carolyn Brent, the author of the new book, “Why Wait? The Baby Boomers’ Guide to Preparing Emotionally, Financially and Legally for a Parent’s Death” – Read below: 

Sara: You focus your efforts on helping families understand the complex issues in family care, Carolyn. What do you think is the most commonly misunderstood challenge for caregivers and the most helpful solution?
Carolyn: The most misunderstood challenge for caregivers is that caregiving is “EASY.” Caregiving is a very difficult job. A caregiver, especially if they are the only one doing the job faces many struggles with the emotional medical, financial, legal, aspects that will come up.  And, caregiving is also commonly thought of as “Caring for an elderly parent is no different than that of rearing a child.” Wrong, the difference is when a child is healthy, the child becomes more independent stronger and smarter. The child will start walking straight and tall holding their head up high as they grow older. Where as an elderly sick senior, today may be the best day they may have for a long, long time. Their bodies start to bend, memory loss appears, walking, and eating becomes a great challenge. Our elderly parents may be on multiple medications and treatments which may cause debilitating side-effects. They may have to start wearing adult diapers, and may experience other health issues one after the other.
Helpful solution- Make caregiving a family affair, give the primary caregiver time-off (Respite). The family should offer financial, and emotional support. The entire family should contribute their time in the caring for their parents. Surprise the primary caregiver with a day spa treatment.  Also, a simple “THANK YOU” will go a long way.
Sara: You feel strongly that baby boomers need to prepare for the eventual death of a parent. From your perspective, what’s the first step in My Photothat process?
Carolyn: Why wait to begin talking? Why wait until there is a crisis? It is much better to hold these crucial conversations early when your parents are still healthy and can articulate their wishes, needs, and concerns.
  •   Don’t wait until there is a crisis situation
  •   Call for a family meeting
  •   Invite everyone in your family to participate
Parents should articulate their wishes, needs, and concerns examples:
1.      Who would you like to make medical
         and financial decisions?
2.      What type of medical treatments do you prefer?
3.      What type of comfort do you want, and what about resuscitation and life support?
4.      How do they want to be treated?
5.      What legacy would they like to leve behind?
When a family has a plan, it is much easier to work together as a team. For the elderly, now is the time for conversations about end-of-life issues to take place with their adult children, not later. My question, as always, is: Why wait? Have the crucial conversations, do the paperwork, and then you and your family members can go back to the routine of living your best lives, secure in the knowledge that affairs are in order.
Sara: A lot of baby boomers dread taking care of aging parents, so we tend to go kicking and screaming towards providing care. What are the benefits for families of learning how to provide better care for their aging parents?
Carolyn: Families tend to say,” if” something happens to me here are my wises. We can better prepare ourselves by turning that “if” into “when.”  Quit procrastinating, when families have a solid plan about end-of-life issues the benefits of having a plan will  make caregiving for the whole family much easier.  Pre-planning is very important to know who will take on certain responsibilities. Get the whole family involved, and if the family is not in agreement, contact an Elder Law Mediator who specializes in this area.
When families plan ahead, they will be prepared for that sudden and unexpected emergency. Another benefit of planning ahead it can ease the potential burden of their parents health care, medical, and housing expense. For an example;  Long-term care insurance (LTCI)is a smart, simple way for adult children to protect their assets as well as their parents. And it isn’t necessary to spend a lot in order to have great LTCI coverage. A good basic plan does the job and provides many options for care. Having a plan in place is a smart thing to do. It’s better to apply while you are in relatively good health, too, in order to get the best rates.
Sara: You’re an advocate for veterans appointing a financial fiduciary and medical representative to protect their interests in the event of their disability. Where do veterans find them? And is this something you also recommend for the general population?
Carolyn: For veterans excellent resources is the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers Assistance for veterans of the American military.
For the general population I recommend only consult with an Elder Law Attorney/Mediator who specializes in senior care.  It is very important to have all legal documents submitted in both federal, state and county agencies to safeguard the possibility of Power of Attorney abuse form family member who may disagree with the arrangements later.
Sara: You started Grandpa’s Dream because your own father was diagnosed with dementia in 1997, and you learned the hard way how difficult it is to manage not only the medical challenges of providing long-term care, but also the financial and emotional issues that accompany a chronic or progressive illness. You come from an interesting vantage point, because you were a clinical education manager for a large pharmaceutical company and you have a B. A. and an M. B. A. in business administration. How did that help you to organize your caregiving?
Carolyn: Great question!
My background helped me with the quest of seeking the knowledge I needed to know to fully understand my father’s condition.  I constantly looked for new medical treatments and options for my father, as well as learning about Dementia and Alzheimer’s. As a direct result of consistently seeking knowledge, I was able to save my father life on September 19, 2008.  That day I noticed a sudden change in my father’s appearance, gait (walk), darkening of the skin and lack of movement on left side on his body.  At that time it appeared to me that my father suffered a stroke.  I immediately took my father to what I thought would be a routine doctors visit. However,  after many test the doctor told me that my father was have a massive hematoma (bleeding on the brain). Oh boy, if it was not for the fact I sought the knowledge I needed to care for my father he more than likely would have died. My father use to tell me, “knowledge is Power.” My father being a pastor would also quote Hosea 4: 6, “My people perish from a lack of knowledge.”

Sara: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with readers, Carolyn. I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to family caregivers.

About Carolyn Brent

Dr. Carolyn A. Brent, is an award-winning bestselling author and a National Physique Committee (NPC) Masters Women's Figure Champion at age 60. She is an expert on both self-care and caregiving; she is the founder of Across All Ages and two nonprofit organizations, CareGiverStory Inc. and Grandpa's Dream. Carolyn's research and extensive collection of published works have made her a notable figure in her field. For seventeen years, she worked for some of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies and has worked as a volunteer at various assisted-living facilities. Her award-winning books include The Caregiver's Companion: Caring for Your Loved One Medically, Financially and Emotionally While Caring for Yourself and The Caregiver's Legal Survival Guide: Navigating through the Legal System.

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