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Thinking & Preparing Ahead Key for Caregiving and Long-Term Care Conversations

It was former First Lady Rosalynn Carter who said, "There are four kinds of people in this world: those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."

Studies show that an astounding nearly one in five American and Oregon households contains at least one family caregiver. However, very few Americans are prepared for the possibility of becoming a caregiver or having some type of family crisis.

That’s why Preparing Ahead is so critical, says aging and caregiving expert, Dr. Vicki Schmall, who also offers these tips and tools in our 2nd video segment for effectively thinking and talking about aging and caregiving issues.

Faye Pendergrass of Lake Oswego understands the importance of preparing ahead. Pedergrass has a long history of caregiving. She has helped care for her ailing grandmother, neighbor, and now her father. “We’re very close as a family and see the value of taking care of our own.”

Despite her experiences, Pendergrass says that her family had not properly prepared for the sudden ailing of her father, who was living in Alabama at the time. “We never had conversations with or about our parents. In hindsight, I think it’s very important to open up communication – and sooner rather than later. Not that decisions need to be made right away, but to have that conversation. What are the wishes and options?”

Pendergrass is not alone. Very few Americans prepare ahead for family crises or know how or where to access information and available resources. Treva Smith of Hillsboro was the sole caregiver for her father. Smith’s father had survived stomach cancer and was doing reasonably well until a fall landed him in a permanent assisted living facility. With her father hospitalized, she was left to handle his finances. “I started to take care of these things, but I didn’t have authority. I couldn’t handle his insurance. His bills weren’t getting paid. I didn’t know how.”

Smith found out that a Power of Attorney (POA) was the solution that she had been looking for. Once the process was made clear and the document acquired, she was able to take care of his expenses during her father’s living years. But Smith learned late that a POA would not be enough to access her father’s savings and finance his funeral upon his passing. Smith would have to be added as a beneficiary to the accounts while her father was still living. “Had he died before I had time to research these things, I wouldn’t have had his bank accounts in order.” Smith urges families to prepare ahead, “We lost so much quality time just trying to learn the logistics.”

Make sure to check out this short video and Q&A with Oregon elder law attorney Geoff Bernhardt, who offers some quick insight and tips on legal considerations for families caring for an aging loved one.

Both caregivers’ experiences are all too familiar, Dr. Schmall says. “Talking early and often is so key. It’s really critical that families discuss how they plan to care for themselves and their loved ones as they age. Starting the discussion early and during times of good health allows families to make informed choices, research resources and tools and make rational decisions that are much harder during times of crisis.”

AARP’s Caregiving Channel

AARP Caregiver Resource Center

AARP Online Community for Caregivers

Benefits QuickLINK: Find out if you or your loved ones qualify for special financial programs

Caregiving in the U.S., 2009: A Research Report
A comprehensive survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with

Eldercare Locator: The U.S. Administration on Aging sponsors the Eldercare Locator to help you find resources for older adults anywhere 

AARP Health Channel: Look up a drug, check for interactions, search for lower cost alternatives, check a symptom or a disease condition, and explore fitness opportunities

Alzheimer’s Association, Oregon Chapter (800-733-0402)

Area Agencies on Aging

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