Caring for aging parents or an aging spouse requires the ability to advocate on their behalf. Some people find it easier than others, but it can be learned.
We take on many roles when we need to take care of aging family members, from driving them to appointments, managing their schedules, reviewing health insurance coverage, making sure the bills get paid and helping them navigate through health challenges. By necessity, we are also must be prepared to advocate on their behalf during a time when they are vulnerable, as reported by AARP in “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents.”
That means knowing what they want for care and quality of life and then making sure those wishes are followed. It also includes helping loved ones manage finances and legal matters, and making certain they receive appropriate and high-quality services and treatments when needed.
Here are a few important skills, many of which you may already possess:
- Observation. We’re typically too busy or tired to notice small changes, but sometimes the slightest shift in a loved one’s ability, health, moods, safety or needs is a sign of a larger problem or health challenge. You need to catch those changes early to make a difference. Reviewing the services they’re receiving and adjusting any substandard care is another big responsibility.
- Organization. There’s a lot of moving parts in a caregiving plan. Organization is a real challenge. As an advocate, be sure you can easily access all legal documents you need, like power of attorney for finances and health care.
- Communication. It’s always an important skill for building relationships, especially with those who help care for your loved ones, like attorneys, aides and doctors. Try to be respectful and set your emotions aside when you are advocating for a loved one. And know that listening is just as important as speaking in effective communication. Be clear, concise and to the point—and show your gratitude.
- Questioning. Ask questions! But be prepared and do your job of gathering information. Educate yourself about your loved ones' health conditions and financial or legal matters. Don't stop until you’re satisfied with the answers you receive. Take notes.
- Tenacity. As a loved one’s advocate, you must have their best interests at heart and take the job seriously. When caregiving knocks you off your feet, get back up. Resilience is key.
If you are able to find a caregiver’s support group, you will benefit from the help and experience of others who are facing similar challenges. Also, speak with an elder law attorney. After all, what is an elder law attorney but a professional advocate? He or she will have a great deal of experience and insight to share.
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