How do you prepare for what you don’t expect? That seems like a strange question. However, when the unexpected happens and you don’t have a plan, you feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped. I was in this situation last spring when my 74-year-old dad, who had never had any chronic illness in his life, was suddenly diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer. We were immediately thrown into the world of hospitals, medical jargon, more prescriptions than we could count, appointments and lots of questions. Just when we thought we were getting the hang of the weekly appointments and chemo treatments, we were hit with another unexpected situation. He had to undergo emergency surgery that left
him in the hospital for 10 days and changed how he would proceed to live his life on a day to day basis. He had months of physical rehabilitation and home healthcare ahead of him.
This left us feeling helpless. My Dad is a single guy with no other immediate family. We had never talked about what we would do if he was unable to care for himself. How were we going to help him with bills and finances— who was going to take care of his house and his cat! Now that we have experienced this and come out on the other side, I want to help others and raise awareness of how to handle the sensitive subject of aging parents. Even if they are in absolute great health, you still need to have conversations and plans for the “unexpected.”
The most important lesson I learned is that I am not alone. There are so many resources available to provide help and support. We have an amazing resource in Brown County called the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). They are a 40-year-old non-profit agency with 63 employees and over 500 volunteers. ADRC provides over 1800 programs in Brown County for those needing care or those that are giving care.
One of the first resources I used from ADRC was Meals on Wheels. My dad had very little energy and making a meal was not easy for him. My husband and I work full time so not having the ability to be with him during the daytime hours was difficult. It took one phone call to get him set up. Meals on Wheels is a free program funded by donations. The recommended donation is $4 per meal, but if the recipient can’t afford that, they will still deliver meals. Besides getting a hot homemade meal, the volunteer delivering is essentially another point of contact for your parent. If they knock on the door or ring the doorbell and
don’t get an answer, they call the emergency contact listed. That happened a few times when my dad forgot to tell them he would be gone for appointments, but getting that call
reminded me that he was being taken care of.
According to the ADRC, there are over 45,137 family and informal caregivers caring for someone in Brown County. That number is probably higher as I learned many caregivers don’t consider themselves caregivers. The definition of a caregiver is anyone who provides care for another person that they otherwise could do for themselves. For me, that meant when I drove my dad to appointments, grocery shopped for him, mowed the lawn, raked
his leaves, cleaned his house, those were all caregiver actions. Caregivers usually have a full time job in addition to providing care for their loved one. It is so important for caregivers to know there are resources just for them. If they are not healthy and rested, they won’t be able to care for their loved one at full capacity.
Knowing what type of medical or Medicare benefits your parents have is also important. Many services like home healthcare are covered. My dad used home healthcare for two months. During that time, the nurses got to know him well and not only took care of him medically, but gave him emotional support. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of his nurses, Sue, and she shared with me her experience in taking care of those in need. She said, “The single most important thing anyone who has a loved one being taken care of can do is to be a support for them.” She said to take time to listen to them and if you can, be at the first home health visit to help them remember instructions or help them with questions they need to ask.
The home health staff are a liaison to the provider so if they see something or you notice something, let them know and they will report it to the physician. Many home health nurses, like Sue, do what they do because they love to care for people. Sue had been in a
corporate job for over 29 years when she decided her desire to care for people hands on was her dream. Sue is the kind of person that represents the home health care providers that are caring for your family in their greatest time of need.
If you are a caregiver, one other resource you should check into is your own employer benefits. My husband’s company provides two weeks of paid caregiver leave. That was so helpful as we could tag team appointments with my dad. Many employers se the value in caring for family and yours could be one of them. Call your Human Resource Department and ask what kind of benefits you have available.
My dad is still battling cancer and has many hurdles ahead of him. However, we all feel more equipped and ready to meet the challenge, knowing we don't have to do it on our own. We are grateful to live in a county that holds caring for aging and disabled adults at such a high value.
Take some time to have a conversation with your parents. Being aware of the potential challenges that lie ahead will help you be prepared for the unexpected. ADRC provides a wide variety of resources that include support groups, consultation, educational classes, assistance specialists, and a community cafe - Grounded Cafe.