Plan your family caregiving journey

Five steps to help create a caregiving plan for your family.

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Photo: Rajiv Perera/Unsplash.

Talking to our aging loved ones about the future can be difficult, especially when it is our parents or older family members. It can be uncomfortable and even upsetting to think about their health declining and how to prepare for loved ones passing away, so most people tend to tip-toe around the topic and ignore planning.

Unfortunately, those we try to protect from being hurt are the ones that will end up suffering the most if conversations and plans do not happen. As hard as it is to talk about these events in a loved one’s life, it is much harder when people are not prepared. 

Family caregiving responsibilities take a toll on family members, not only financially but also on the quality of care. Therefore, a family caregiving plan is essential. People in the United States are living longer, and as our nation’s population grows older the need for caregiving will be as common as the need for childcare.

Family members need to have conversations with each other about what matters to their loved ones and create a plan together that meets the needs of those they will care for or be responsible to help. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Family Caregiving Guide recommends the following five steps to help create a caregiving plan for your family:

  1. Start the conversation. Most adult children avoid talking to their aging parents about who will take care of them as their health declines or during their end of life. Most parents find it difficult to admit that they may need help someday. As difficult as this conversation may be, it is important to talk about the help your parents and older family members may need when their health declines and what their end-of-life wishes are. Talking about emotional support is just as important as the financial support. How much time and money can your family afford to help each other?
  2. Form your team. You cannot create an effective family caregiving plan without the input of family members. Everyone needs a voice in the process. Always consider the care recipient’s wishes and priorities when forming the caregiving team.
  3. Make a plan. After forming a team, and family needs are assessed and information gathered, it is time to discuss and assign specific responsibilities and tasks. Host a family meeting or a conference call. Just make sure everyone on your team knows about the meeting. The plan needs to be a general outline of what the plan and schedules are. You may choose to organize the discussion around the major areas of life that might be impacted by caregiving responsibilities such as financial, travel, your own families, employment and healthcare access and illnesses.
  4. Find support. Figure out what your loved one’s needs and priorities are. Once you are aware of this, then you can determine the kind of information and which resources will help the most. Seek out local and national resources for support of caregivers. Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) the local Commission on Aging, AARP, National Alliance for Caregiving and the National Institute on Aging are all good resources to begin with. They have a wealth of information that will suggest ways to take care of specific needs.
  5. Care for yourself. Being a family caregiver is an important and rewarding job, but it is also stressful, that is why it is of the utmost importance to take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to reach out for help and accept help when offered. Take care of your own health, this includes physical, emotional and mental well-being. Engage in self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, reading, a spa day or anything you enjoy doing. Join a caregiving support group or seek counseling.

Sometimes the best-laid plans are hard to implement. When a crisis happens, it is difficult to remember a specific action. Just remember no matter how organized and committed you are, the plan will change as you go along. You must be flexible. The plan will still ensure a meaningful and caring future for those you love. Although it is difficult to see your loved one decline in health, you will never regret the time you have spent caring for them.

Michigan State University Extension offers programs and resources that will help you in your caregiving journey, such as Caring for the Caregiver, Powerful Tools for Caregivers, RELAX: Alternatives to Anger and Stress Less with Mindfulness. 

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