How well organized are you? Are you good at planning ahead and anticipating how to deal with whatever challenges and issues may be around the next bend? “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Well, no one realizes this more than an at-home caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
If you’ve been noticing some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s, as the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.” Just to review, are they showing bad judgment? Are they misplacing things? Are they having trouble performing familiar tasks? Are they having trouble finding the right words? Have they become anti-social? These are just some of the signs of what may be ahead for you, and the sooner you start planning, the better it will be for both of you.
If you’re going to be the “point person,” there’s a great deal you can do and should do and the first step is education. Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association and/or an Alzheimer’s care specialist to learn as much about the disease as possible. Also, join a support group and involve as many family members as you can. This will go a long way in helping all of you to understand that you’re not alone as well as what is happening and why.
The legal issues can be considerable and they can’t be ignored. Is there a Power of Attorney for health and finance? Does your loved one have a will? Is there a Living Will? What about the bank accounts?
You may want to consider taking away their credit cards or at least lowering the amounts, and if you haven’t already done so, get them on the no-call list to avoid telemarketers. Don’t be shy about contacting your banker and an elder care lawyer as you’ll find it time very well spent.
The final phase is the one where you get organized and get your “ducks in a row.” Who is going to be part of your support system? What kind of activities are you going to have planned when your loved one needs a distraction? Do you have emergency contacts in case you suddenly aren’t available to help?
Remember to keep a journal of behaviors for the doctor. Are you ready to take the car keys or the car? Should the person be enrolled in the MedicAlert program because he or she wanders? And are you looking ahead to the next step in the event that you simply can’t do it at home anymore? The best time to do your homework is sooner rather than later. No one wants to make a decision in a crisis. Imagine that the patient has fallen and is in rehab and you get a call from the discharge planner telling you that he or she has to leave the hospital. But if the patient can’t go home, what do you tell the discharge planner?
If you’re going to be an effective caregiver, you need to take care of you. Make sure that your plan also includes some very important “you” time. You’ll earn it.