Regardless of how we became caregivers, most of us took on the responsibility without a second thought. After all, we raised our children, and they didn’t turn out so bad after all. Sadly, others felt totally lost, completely unsure of their next step, or even their first step.
The one thing all of us, including me, have in common is that we all made mistakes — lots of them! And, some of us are still making them. The result? Unnecessary stress, self-doubts, resentments, regrets, and that awful feeling, “If only I’d known …”. You know, the “woulda, coulda, shouldas.”
#1 — You MUST take care of you — First!
Caregivers have a much higher risk for health and emotional problems than other people. That’s because they are less likely to attend to their own health by eating nutritious foods, getting regular physical activity and treating physical and emotional problems. While it may feel like your first responsibility is to your loved one, your priorities MUST be:
- YOU come first. (You can’t help the person you’re caring for if you are sick in bed, in the hospital or, worse yet, have a nervous breakdown.) This is NOT being selfish or narcissistic!
- Your spouse and your relationship come SECOND. They should be your support throughout your caregiving efforts and be THE life you return to fully after your caregiver duties are over.
- Your CHILDREN come next. They need and DESERVE your nurturing support.
- The person you are caring for comes LAST, despite whining and complaining. You are not being cruel or uncaring, despite what other people may say to you. And, DON’T fall for the guilt trip that says, ‘I raised you, so its your turn — It’s your duty to help me.” (That’s most often said by a narcissistic or controlling parent.)
Always expect the unexpected when caring for an elderly person. At times, you’ll have to juggle your priorities, e.g., taking your loved one (or not-so-loved-one) to the hospital. Even so, get back to your real priorities as soon as you can.
Here’s How to Find Your “Me” Time.
#2 — Don’t accidentally sign away your house and bank accounts
When your parent visits a new doctor, goes to the emergency room, is admitted into a hospital, assisted living facility, nursing home or visits any other type of medical facility, one thing is certain: forms have to be filled out. One of those will ask for the name and signature of the person who will be responsible for paying the bills if your parent or your parent’s insurance doesn’t.
If you go with your loved one on those visits, you may feel pressured to get the forms filled out and signed as quickly as possible. And, like most of us, you don’t have time to read every piece of paper that’s shoved in front of you. But, if you sign the forms because your parent can’t — for whatever reason — you may make one of the biggest mistakes of your life.
Even if you are your parent’s financial power of attorney (POA), when you pay their bills, sign checks, sign admittance forms for nursing homes, etc., you must be very, very careful. If done correctly, you will not become responsible for paying your loved one’s bills.
But, many POA’s don’t know how to use their POA. Instead, they simply sign their own names. But, if you do only that, you WILL become personally responsible for paying his/her bills. And yes, that means your parent’s nursing home — for example — can come after your bank accounts and your house to pay your loved one’s bills.
Quick Fact: Who pays for long-term nursing home care? Not Medicare! And, Medicaid won’t pay until your parent has spent nearly all of his/her money.
To put that into perspective, nursing home costs are staggering. In 2014, a private room cost about $260 daily; that’s $99,800 annually. A semi-private room runs $233 a day, more than $89,000 every year. And, the average nursing home stay is 835 days — more than two years — according to the government’s latest National Nursing Home Survey.
Don’t let your parent’s nursing home expenses drain your bank accounts too.
Whenever you sign a check or a contract as your loved one’s POA, you MUST sign like this:
Your Name, POA
Your Loved One’s Name (printed)
in the signature area of the check or form, even if your loved one’s name also appears somewhere else on the check or form.
If “POA” and your parent’s printed name are not in the signature area of a check drawn on your parent’s account, their bank may not honor it.
If “POA” and your loved one’s name are not on financial responsibility forms, the law assumes that you are acting on your own behalf. In this case, according to the law, you will become financial responsible even though you have a piece of paper that says you are the POA, and that you intended to act as a POA.
Bottom line — be very careful. Read each form before signing it. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Take your time. Don’t be intimidated by anyone just because you’re being careful.
Finally, a word of caution: POA’s are ignored by Medicare and Social Security.
#3 — Your Power of Attorney Means Nothing to Social Security and Medicare
The Social Security/Medicare roadblock shows up out of the blue, usually at a time when we have our hands full trying to solve a multitude of other problems — and we don’t need one more frustration added to the stack we are already dealing with.
On the other hand, identity theft and other types of financial fraud against the elderly has become very prevalent. It is not as difficult as we would like to believe for a complete stranger to convince an elderly person to give them their Durable Power of Attorney. And, if Social Security’s safeguards were not in place, it would be easy for a thief to change an elderly person’s address and cash their monthly benefit checks, or to change the bank designated to receive their monthly automated deposits.
It is Social Security’s and Medicare’s primary responsibility to protect their benefits from any form of abuse. After all, these safety nets are the only benefits many elderly people receive. As a result, both Social Security and Medicare have become extremely cautious in making any change to a elderly person’s account. The fact that their safeguards make it inconvenient for adult children to handle their parents’ financial affairs is of only secondary importance — as it should be.
To overcome this problem, Social Security has instituted a Representative Payee Program. To quote their website,
“Social Security’s Representative Payment Program provides financial management for the Social Security and SSI payments of our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or SSI payments. Generally, we look for family or friends to serve in this capacity.”
(Because Medicare and Social Security are tied so closely together, Social Security maintains all addresses for both agencies.) For more information about how to apply to become a Representative Payee, click on Representative Payee Program.
#4 — Don’t teach your parent to be helpless
Don’t automatically do something for a loved one because …
- they do it too slowly
- you assume they can’t do it
- you are in a hurry
- they defer to you because of your impatience
If we do too much for others, we teach them “learned helplessness.” If they have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, sooner or later they will simply forget how to do things. Once they forget, they will never relearn.
Help them, but only to the extent they need it. “Would you like some help with that?” People who want to do for themselves, but believe they can’t for whatever reason, feel a sense of pride when they are able to accomplish a task, even if doing so requires a little help from their caregiver. Don’t try to reteach them everything at once. Work on one task at a time. When that is relearned, start reteaching the next task.