Caregiving can slowly become a reality as a loved one ages, or it can be a sudden change resulting from an accident, new diagnosis, or hospitalization. Regardless of your individual situation, it is crucial to understand that the nature of providing care for someone can change in an instant. For this reason, it is especially important to approach your myriad tasks in an organized fashion. Should anything change, you will have a plan of action to build off of and a list of available resources ready to help you meet new and emerging needs.

A care plan can be a casual organization tool, an informal or verbal agreement with a loved one, or a formal contract used to coordinate payment for care services. Plans can vary from daily to-do lists to detailed weekly accounts of amounts and types of care provided. The following steps can help you create your very first care plan or reevaluate your current approach to caregiving.

Assess activities of daily living

The first step toward devising a care plan is to address any problem(s) at hand. In caregiving, there are a few different categories that must be assessed in order to create a well-rounded strategy for dealing with concerns. A loved one’s home environment, activities of daily living (ADLs), medical and legal documents, and financial situation must all be thoroughly reviewed to make sure nothing is overlooked. Some loved ones may be resistant to such an “intrusion” into their personal affairs, but getting a complete snapshot of their situation is vital for developing an appropriate plan of action. On the other hand, this first step is also useful in identifying the areas in which a loved one is still self-sufficient and able to retain their independence.

Identify care needs and set goals

The next step revolves around two central questions:

  • What is lacking or being overlooked in your loved one’s current routine?
  • What objectives would you like to help them achieve?

Based on the results of the care assessment above, make an ordered list of all shortcomings or concerns with the highest priorities at the top. Your loved one’s immediate health and wellbeing are of utmost importance, so if they are losing weight or not complying with their medication regimen, these problems must be dealt with first.

Even if you do not identify any flaws in their day-to-day schedule, setting goals for their wellbeing is a useful way to convey your interest in and willingness to help them thrive. Don’t forget to include your loved one’s own desires for the future when creating these objectives as well. “I want Mom to be safe,” “I want Dad to eat better,” and “I want my husband to have a higher quality of life” are all excellent caregiving goals that can be achieved in numerous ways.

Longer-term objectives like financial, advance care, estate and funeral planning can be addressed with the same two questions. These preparations are extremely important and can be time sensitive, depending on your loved one’s current situation. While they may be less pressing than rectifying health matters, the sooner these issues are addressed, the better. Proactive planning in these areas increases the likelihood that a loved one will be able to afford the lifestyle they have in mind for the future, guarantees that their health care and end of life wishes are respected even if they cannot convey them, and clearly specifies how their estate is to go through the probate process. Your loved one’s participation in setting these goals is paramount, so long as they are still competent to make these decisions.

Create a well-rounded care team

A caregiver shouldn’t have to coordinate and execute all of these tasks unaided. Embarking on this journey alone frequently leads to damaging caregiver burnout and poor physical and mental health. The purpose of creating a care team is to take inventory of all resources at your disposal and encourage communication and cooperation amongst all those who are willing to participate in your loved one’s care plan. Friends, family, neighbors, volunteers and other close members in the community are the most obvious candidates for assisting with a loved one’s day-to-day needs and personal care. It is best to assemble a team of constructive individuals who are eager to lend a hand or an ear when you need it most.

Of course, the more complex medical, legal and financial aspects of a care plan are best handled by experienced professionals. Elder care specialists such as elder law attorneys, therapists, benefits counselors, certified public accountants (CPAs), financial advisors, and social workers can be valuable additions to your care team. If a loved one has a particularly complex set of medical issues and/or multiple physicians, a reputable geriatric care manager can assist in organizing, monitoring and facilitating their care as well.

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Match care team members with solutions

In some cases, a team member’s specific tasks will be obvious. An elder law attorney will handle drafting POA and advance directive documents, whereas a financial advisor can assist with money management strategies, investments, and insurance products. Assigning specific tasks to friends and family members on your care team can be a little more challenging.

Make a list of viable solutions for each gap in your care plan. For example, to reach the goal of helping Dad eat healthier meals more frequently, your brother and sister who live nearby could take turns making him a few pre-made meals or inviting him over for dinner a few times each week, and siblings who live far away could contribute funds for a subscription food delivery service to make up the difference. Try to identify each person’s individual strengths or abilities, and match them with feasible solutions. These individual assets can include proximity to the care recipient, free time in their schedule, monetary contributions, and skills like cooking, cleaning, and communicating. Get creative with how you appraise each team member and ideas for how they might be able to contribute.

Investigate other senior resources

Any gaps or holes that remain in your care plan after you assign responsibilities to your team members should be filled by additional professional services, federal, state, or local programs. Your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) or a geriatric social worker can assist you in finding appropriate resources for your situation. While most families would prefer to keep their care team to family and close friends, this is not always realistic. Professional in-home care, adult day care, and respite services are often necessary to fill in any remaining holes. It can take a great deal of research to find the right programs or services to complete your care plan, but this effort is well worth it.

Put your plan into action

The ultimate goal of having a care plan and care team in place is to promote communication and unified efforts for the welfare of care recipient and caregiver. A divide and conquer approach to caregiving is far more sustainable than a single person taking on all of these responsibilities. Keep in mind that a care plan is an ever-evolving tool. Professional care providers use similar organizational techniques and evaluate and update each client’s plan regularly to ensure all of their needs are being met. Finding proper solutions may take some trial and error, and your loved one’s needs are likely to increase over the long term.

Even if your loved one does not currently need a care plan, beginning to put these pieces of the puzzle into place early on can save valuable time and help you avoid a great deal of stress later on. They do not necessarily have to share detailed financial or medical records with you just yet, but simply having them keep an updated file with this information can be incredibly helpful in the event of an emergency. This goes for medications, health information, and legal documents as well. Should something happen, you will have the fundamental materials needed to make any decisions quickly and confidently.

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