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Faced with a parent who needs your help, you're suddenly thrust into the role of a caregiver. You're likely to discover that you need help, too. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to care for an aging parent. Here are five tips to create a caregiving team that works well for your family.
1. Hold regular family meetings. Gather your siblings and other key relatives to develop a care plan for your parent — ideally long before you're in a crisis situation. Involve your parent in all of the discussions. First up: Figure out the finances, how much is available for your loved one's care and what each family member can contribute. Make sure everyone voices their concerns. Put the family agreement in writing and reassess the situation every few months.
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2. Call on friends and family members for help. If a friend or relative asks, "Is there anything I can do," have a list of tasks to be done and ask what they might be able to help out with. Are they available to do errands? Can they walk the dog or pick up books from the library or go grocery shopping? Make a list of a wide range of tasks and activities that need to be done. Set up a rotating visiting schedule for their help.
3. Use the Internet to communicate with your team. Start a family Facebook page and a blog. Set up a family schedule online. It's the easiest way to communicate to let your family and friends know what's going on without getting signals crossed or spinning your wheels. Check out a website like www.lotsahelpinghands.com to coordinate efforts.
4. Figure out the legal issues. Does your parent have a will, a living will and powers of attorney for health care and finances? If not, it's essential to get them now and for the parent and siblings to agree on who is handling finances, whose name or names will be on bank accounts and who will be the one signing legal documents or checks in an emergency. Know where to get your hands on all their legal documents, including their house deed and insurance policies. Review how bills are being paid and whether a better system is needed. Make sure your parent files an income tax return every year.
5. Identify community resources. Contact your local government agency or community centers with aging offices that may have a staff member to help you. Contact local synagogues or churches to find out what services they offer older people and their families. Check out www.eldercare.gov, a service from the U.S. Administration on Aging, to pinpoint services in your community. Many community-based services offer free services, including regular telephone calls, help around the house and volunteers to make friendly visits.