Get a Medical Assessment and Diagnosis
A comprehensive medical exam from a qualified health care team that reviews both physical and mental health is very important for your loved one. Treatment during the early stages of most diseases is critical. In addition, some conditions such as medication interaction and depression can mimic the symptoms of other diseases, and a misdiagnosis can waste valuable time.
Educate Yourself, Your Loved One, and Your Family
Talk to health professionals and to people going through similar experiences. Read books and brochures. Research on the internet. Learn about the disease, how it progresses, the level of care that will be needed, and what resources are available. Keep a notebook and file folder of information you collect for future reference. You confidence will be increased and your anxiety reduced as you build your knowledge base.
Determine Your Loved One’s Needs
Assess your loved one’s level of independence through observation and a variety of questionnaires. Thorough assessments usually take the following into consideration:
- Personal Care − bathing, eating, dressing, toileting, grooming
Household Care − cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, finances
Health Care − medication management, physician’s appointments, physical therapy
Emotional Care − companionship, meaningful activities, conversation
Supervision − oversight for safety at home
See our section on Assessing Your Parent's Level of Independence for more detailed guidance on either arranging a professional assessment or conducting your own.
Formulate a Care Plan
With the diagnosis and completed needs-assessment in hand, it’s time to formulate a care plan. Consider inviting family and close friends to convene and discuss the results of the assessment and what care is needed. Such a meeting presents an excellent opportunity to involve others from the beginning, to gain their support, and, hopefully, to garner their cooperation and aid in the future.
Think about both short and long-term needs, and make a list of each. (Since your loved one’s needs change over time, these lists must remain flexible.) Discuss your options for meeting each of the needs, looking at the pros and cons of all possibilities:
First make a list of “formal” support possibilities for the various needs (community services, paid home care workers, day programs), including the costs/limitations.
Next, consider the role you see yourself playing in the care of your loved one, being realistic about your own abilities, time, and financial resources.
Then list your “informal supports” (volunteers: siblings, friends, neighbors), and think about how each person might be able to provide assistance. List any advantages/disadvantages of asking for their help, and write down ideas for overcoming the disadvantages. Get commitments from those at the meeting so you know who you can count.
After thoughtful discussion and deliberation, identify specific solutions by naming specific individuals and organizations for each need.
Finally, you are ready to create a time schedule (weekly or monthly) that includes both formal and informal supports. Provide copies for yourself, your loved one, and all supports.
Ticklish as it may be, it’s necessary to gain a full understanding of your loved one’s financial assets and liabilities. Consider having an attorney or financial planner assist you through the process, and include your loved one as much as possible in this process.
Develop a list of financial assets and liabilities: checking/savings accounts, Social Security income, certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, real estate deeds, insurance policies and annuities, retirement or pension benefits, credit card debts, home mortgages, loans, etc.
Keep important records in one place, such as a safety deposit box or a home file cabinet. You should include Social Security numbers, birth, marriage and death certificates, divorce decrees, property settlements, military records, income taxes returns, wills, trust agreements, and burial arrangements.
For more thorough information about managing finances, read our section on Financial Issues.
Review Legal Documents
Like finances, a review of legal issues is absolutely necessary. The execution of certain clear, legally-binding documents ensures that your loved one’s wishes and decisions will be carried out. While sometimes difficult or uncomfortable to discuss with your loved one, completing Durable Powers of Attorney (DPA) for both finances and healthcare prepares for the future and relieves you of a great deal of anxiety later.
For more thorough information about legal documents, read our section on Legal Issues.