Like it or not, many adult children take on the role of caregiver for an aging parent one way or another. Some manage the books and finances. Some render physical care. Some run errands, check on the parent and keep things going as their loved one loses independence. Even those who have not had good relationships with a parent often get past the resentment and do what for them is the right thing, as a parent becomes more vulnerable with age. It's what most Boomers seem willing to undertake. At the same time it is inescapable to consider what might happen if we were in need of care ourselves. Who would take care of us?
Who will take care of YOU?
A client at AgingParents.com, "Rex" put it well: "I have to think about who will wipe my behind and feed me if I live that long." And live that long he might. He's 80, in reasonably good health and he has no children. Who indeed? We discussed his options. This brings into focus the Advance Healthcare Directive, the document that empowers the appointed person to make healthcare decisions if we can no longer speak for ourselves. Did Rex have such a document, which is also called a power of attorney for healthcare? Yes, he did. His appointed agent was his brother, older than himself and living 500 miles away. He mentioned that he was beginning to realize that appointing his older, out of town brother was not the most practical thing to do. He was right. Who else might do the job if were needed? He had a nephew, one possibility but he also lived at a distance. He also knew a professional care manager who had helped another relative. That person was an even better possibility. She was younger, local, and he knew her to be competent. I suggested that he ask her if she were willing to be appointed. Otherwise, he could rely on a licensed fiduciary from a nonprofit agency, or an independent fiduciary in the area. These fiduciaries in his state must be licensed to manage finances if a person becomes incapacitated physically or mentally. They serve as guardians and conservators. They do not necessarily have training in addressing medical issues but an experienced fiduciary either has the skill set or could learn a client's preferences and wishes about care through conversation and specifics in the healthcare directive. Rex is going to make that change of agents. He will interview the care manager, and a fiduciary or two. If he finds one willing and makes a choice, he can create a new healthcare directive, and let his older brother know that he's "off the hook" for this potential responsibility. He tears up the old document and gives a copy of the new one to the appointed person. No lawyer needed unless there is a question about what the words need to be on the paper. Since healthcare directive forms are available on the internet for free, or from most hospitals or doctor's offices, getting a blank one to fill in is not complicated.
What is more complicated than securing the piece of paper is thinking through all the possibilities presented to you as choices on the healthcare directive. Not everyone understands the medical terminology. What does it meant to be intubated, for example? How do you know if you will want a feeding tube or not? The ideal way to figure out what you want on your directive is to discuss it with your physician. If you have a medical professional in your life, whether friend or family, you can ask for an explanation of the terms to help you understand the choices. The hardest part of this exercise for some of us is actually imagining being helpless, or unconscious or unable to speak for ourselves. By the directive, we turn over all the power for decisions to another person or persons. The decisions can be difficult.
Here's the takeaway: you don't want to leave your future to chance when it comes to clarifying your wishes. Whether it's about end of life or living in a disabled condition, you have every right to decide what you accept in terms of care and what you don't. Rex is an unusual person in that he is proactive, and willing to consider who might care for him if he needs it in his later years. I respect that a lot! He's a smart and realistic guy. I hope you'll be like him and do what he is doing. Think about all this, talk it through. Even if you have adult children and grandchildren, you have to ask yourself whom you should trust and what they need to know to honor your wishes. You deserve to have those wishes respected. It's up to you to initiate the process so that you'll know who might be feeding you or wiping your behind, should it come to that. Do you want to live to be 100? Make sure you cover the possibilities, just in case you're not so spry as you want to be.
I'm a California girl, born and raised here, with an abiding interest in health issues and particularly, healthy aging. I have always loved working with older people, probably because I had this amazing grandmother. She taught me so much about life, balance, how to be your o...MORE