By Annelle Norman
Most everyone reading this article will eventually be in one of two situations: either as an aging senior in need of some assistance or the adult child of an aging senior needing to provide their parent with some support. As the Point Roberts community ages (more than half of us are over 65), Circle of Care is starting to see more and more residents who are experiencing health challenges and yet still want to remain in their homes and community. Fire district 5 has implemented the C.A.R.E.S. program which entails medically trained staff serving numerous seniors, visiting them weekly in their homes to check blood pressure, blood sugar, general well-being and coping skills. Circle of Care can provide volunteer services such as meals, home care, pet care, transportation, errands, etc. as well as referring trained, certified caregivers.
Sometimes in these situations, family members are local, but not always, and we do our best to interface with absent loved ones to keep them abreast of their family member’s condition. It isn’t uncommon for us to encounter a situation where important decision-making and information-sharing conversations have not yet happened, resulting in family members being unaware of their loved one’s wishes regarding aging in place, end of life care or other important life decisions. These conversations are often delayed at best or avoided entirely because they are perceived as not easy for either party. The aging parent might be grappling with the specter of declining health and their eventual demise while their son, daughter or other family members might be frightened by the prospect of dealing with those issues firsthand or of upsetting their aging loved one. As a result, most families do not have a plan until there is a problem, which can make a bad situation even worse.
Within the next 25 years, the number of American families providing care and/or financial assistance for aging loved ones will double to 60 million families. Those numbers have far-reaching implications – from politics and economics to social and community values to family dynamics. Do we as a nation want to build more and more institutions to house and serve our aging population or do we want to keep them integrated into our communities? Do we, as individuals, want to stay in our homes (or, at least, in our communities) or move into institutions as we age? Are we, as loved ones, willing and able to care for and/or financially assist our elders?
Having an aging-in-place plan is not just for the elderly. We all know families whose routines and lifestyles have been turned upside down by a severe injury, a stroke suffered early in life, cancer or chronic illness. It seems that all families would be wise to have a “what if” conversation to ascertain family beliefs, desires, intentions and resources.
Whatever your situation, please plan to gather your family around a table to talk through these decisions. (Technology can make “round table” family conversations happen even long distance via Skype or other conferencing applications, so there is no reason to put it off.) Ask different participants to lead different topics of the conversation:
What is the current situation?
What are the current and likely future needs?
What are the resources available? As in people (remember to take into account not only family but also friends, neighbors and community services like Circle of Care), time and finances.
What are the wishes of the family member who is likely to be or is currently in need of support?
Are all essential documents completed and accessible? Have you each completed a will which takes into account aging family members as well as unforeseen illnesses or deaths? Do you know where these documents are filed and who has access to them?
What kind of a plan can you put into place?
There are many excellent resources online.
An excellent article on this subject was published by AARP and is available here on the web: bit.ly/2U1JEvx “Prepare to Care, A Planning Guide for Families” discusses many of these challenges and provides guidance for how to approach these needed, yet challenging, conversations.
Five Wishes at fivewishes.org puts essential documents in your hands to complete and guides you through making some of the difficult decisions about end of life care.
Here are the primary legal documents recommended by Washington state: wsma.org/advance-directives.
We at Circle of Care encourage you to initiate these conversations with your family members sooner rather than later. We are happy to assist you with guidance about resources as well as information and referrals.
If we can be of assistance, please contact us at 360/945-5222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.