Advice for Caregivers of Aging Parents

Caring for an aging parent can be an overwhelming job. In addition to maintaining your own personal responsibilities like your job, your home, and parenting your children, you also take on the role of caregiver for a parent who is no longer able to look after themself. You may experience feelings of stress, frustration and guilt as you try to balance everything. Here are a few tips to reduce the anxiety and burnout that can come with caring for an aging parent:

Self-Care Is Crucial

Those who are also working—either remotely or outside of the home—have additional responsibilities beyond caregiving. When juggling so many roles, it is important to receive help and emotional support from others to avoid burnout, depression, and anxiety. Take care of yourself by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising to relieve stress. Schedule a bit of time for yourself to do something you enjoy. Taking time out for yourself is not selfish—on the contrary, if you are burned out, you will be much less able to care for others.

Get Help If Needed

When it comes to taking care of aging parents, one of the most important things you can do is get help when you need it. You don’t need to be the only person providing all of your parent’s care. Although you might feel like it should be your responsibility, in reality, getting additional help will only improve the level of care for your parent and make things more manageable for you. Consider hiring trained professionals to assist your parent with things like dressing, feeding, bathing, toileting, transfers, and exercise. These professionals are likely more qualified than you are in elderly care, and may ensure a safer environment for your parent.

Check That All of the Necessary Estate Planning Documents Are in Place

You can also alleviate the stress of caregiving by checking if your aging parents have up-to-date estate planning documents in place, and if they do not, encouraging them to have these important documents prepared. You certainly should not try to force them to do so or influence their estate planning decisions. However, if they have indicated that they would like you to act as their caregiver if the need arises, or if you have already assumed that role, it is important to know whether you are legally permitted to act and make decisions on their behalf if they become too ill to do so themselves. This is a relatively simple step to ensure that there will be no delays or uncertainty that might hinder their care.

The documents that you want to make sure they have in place include: 

  • Financial power of attorney. If you are named as your parents’ agent under a durable financial power of attorney, this authorizes you, as the caregiver, to make financial decisions and manage financial matters on your parents’ behalf without concern that it will become ineffective if they develop dementia or a similar condition. For example, you will be allowed to pay bills, manage financial accounts, or sell property on behalf of your parents. As an agent under a power of attorney, you are legally bound to put aside your own opinions and make the decisions that are in the best interests of your parents and that they would have made themselves (to the extent you know what they would have chosen).
  • Medical power of attorney. A durable medical power of attorney enables you to manage your parents’ health care if they are unable to do so. As with a financial power of attorney, it is crucial for your parents’ medical power of attorney to be durable; this ensures that it will continue to be legally valid even if they develop a condition that renders them unable to communicate their wishes or make their own decisions about their medical care. The medical power of attorney will authorize you or another trusted individual, as the health care agent, to make important—even life and death—decisions about the treatments they will receive if they are unable to make those decisions themselves. As is the case with the financial power of attorney, your own opinions must be set aside because, as an agent under a power of attorney, you must make the decisions that your parents would have made.
  • Living will. Your parent’s living will allows them to communicate their end-of-life wishes in writing, so that you, as their caregiver, will not have to agonize over a difficult decision about whether to keep them on artificial life support or a feeding tube, authorize a particular treatment, or ask medical professionals to resuscitate them if they stop breathing. These are decisions that are best made well before a medical crisis occurs. No caregiver wants to be in the position of guessing what their beloved parent or child would have wanted or suffering through disputes with family members who may have conflicting opinions about a parent’s wishes.
  • HIPAA authorization. The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires medical records to be kept private unless an individual consents in writing to sharing of protected health information with a named individual. If you are your parents’ caregiver, they should fill out a HIPAA authorization permitting doctors to keep you informed about their medical conditions and treatments.

Warning: The legal requirements for estate planning documents vary from state to state. If your parents have moved from another state to live with you, they may need to have their documents reviewed or redone to ensure that they are valid in your state.

It is crucial for your parents to put these documents in place before they develop any condition involving a cognitive loss that would prevent them from having the capacity to sign a legal document. If they develop dementia, for example, and are not able to understand the objective or content of a power of attorney or other document, they will be legally unable to execute the document. In that case, you will have to go to a court and ask to be appointed as your parents’ guardian to care for their physical or medical needs or as their conservator to manage their financial affairs. This takes time and money, involves public testimony and evaluations about your parents’ health and living situation, and is completely avoidable if the necessary documents are prepared in advance.

We Are Here for You

Caregivers do not always remember to take steps to lighten their load. It is important not only to recognize your own emotional needs and develop skills to manage the stresses of caregiving but also to reach out to others for help when you need it. We can put your mind at ease by assisting your parents or adult children with the necessary estate planning documents to ensure that you (if you have been asked to act as their caregiver) can act quickly to make decisions on their behalf. Contact Beaupre Law today so we can help your family feel confident that plans are in place to protect their best interests for the future.