Developing a plan to care for elders is a lengthy process. But the most important point is to have an overall plan, and not just to juggle one crisis after another when they happen. Fortunately, extensive resources exist to help you create and carry out a strategy. Look for guidance online, in books and from community agencies. One thing every expert recommends: "You must become a note-taking dynamo," according to AARP's (American Association for Retired Persons) guide. As you research and then interact with those who can provide assistance to your elders, keep detailed records of everything you do. Here are some basic steps to take as you start to build your family’s eldercare blueprint:

  • Open dialogue: Emphasize that the elders need to communicate their wishes clearly so that their choices can be honored. Acknowledge that discussing the issues can be difficult, but that it is necessary.
  • Identify priorities, preferences and fears: Find out what is most important to the elders as they age. How do they define independence? What living situation options appeal to them if and when staying in their home is no longer possible? Are there family members willing or able to serve as caregivers? Or would the elders prefer paid help? What most scares them about aging?
  • Organize paperwork: Review insurance coverage. Assess finances, and whether elders need assistance with long-term financial planning or day-to-day management, such as bill-paying and budgeting. Make sure important end-of-life documents (wills, living wills, powers-of-attorney) are current.
  • Assess abilities: How capable is each elder of performing basic activities of daily living? Everything from self-care to social engagement, pill-taking to transportation, should be evaluated. Quality of life can decline in barely perceptible ways, and the elderly are at great risk for depression as their worlds slowly contract around them.
  • Evaluate available resources: Research options – agencies to provide help for elders to stay in their own homes, as well as alternate living arrangements. Assess ideal situations in light of financial realities.
  • Determine needs: Healthy elders may need little assistance in the short term. But getting them support with simple, small things early may pay a preventative dividend – a telephone medication reminder service, or help with housekeeping and yard work. Even encouraging them to enroll in a strength training class for seniors may help them stay in their homes longer, preventing falls by improving balance and muscle strength. Needs will increase over time, and the care plan will have to adapt and evolve. But getting it off the ground early makes the challenging task more manageable. With the tough stuff handled, the family can concentrate on enjoying the grandparents' golden years.

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