Applegate: How elder caregivers can take a guilt-free summer vacation

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With summer just around the corner, most families are looking forward to a vacation. But those who are caregivers for their elderly parents or other loved ones may not feel the same way. Often, caregivers can feel guilty about getting away while they have so much responsibility at home or find it impossible to imagine getting a break. Lots of questions can arise, such as who will take care of the loved ones, how they can continue receiving help, what happens if an emergency arises and more. But with so much day-to-day responsibility as a caregiver, it’s important to have time to refresh and avoid burnout. Here’s how you can help your clients enjoy a guilt-free vacation this summer.

Who cares for them?

Depending on your clients’ loved ones’ care needs, where they go and who can take care of them can vary while the caregiver is on vacation. A trusted family member or friend is usually the best choice if the loved one is more independent. They may just need someone to come for a check-in, bring meals or provide transportation.

If they need more care, there are a few in-home care options to consider:

1.  Ask a relative or friend if they can stay with them. This is a great option so the loved ones can be in the comfort of their own home with someone they trust. Also, your client will have better communication with a friend or relative, as they can call or text more often. The relative or family member, however, could feel inadequate or overwhelmed to take on such a big responsibility.

2.  Hire the daytime caregiver to stay the night. This will help ease the caregiver’s mind, as well as the patients’ minds, because they are already comfortable with this person. Knowing the person that is spending the night is important. Most do not like strangers in their home during the night hours.

3.  Hire a licensed home care aide. This is the best option to consider if the parents or loved ones require a greater level of care. The National Association for Home Care & Hospice provides a database of more than 30,000 home care and hospice agencies that you can search by location. This can get pricey, but costs can vary according to location and responsibilities.

Also, encourage your client to ask for the family member, friend, caregiver or aide to visit before the trip so they can get to know the loved one, the home and their responsibilities and duties.

A checklist for the fill-in caregiver

It’s important that your client is as organized as possible with all the paperwork, medications and other supplies needed to ensure the fill-in caregiver can take great care of their parents or other loved ones. Here is a checklist you can go through with your client:

1.  Important phone numbers for:

• The primary caregiver.

• Another person who is on vacation with them.

• The hotel where they are staying, if applicable.

• Physician who is most familiar with their loved ones’ conditions.

• Local emergency room/hospital.

• A friend or family member who is in town.

2.  Medications list: All medications the caregiver’s loved ones take, including a daily schedule that lists the times and doses of each medication. Be sure to also have the phone number of the local pharmacy that fills the prescriptions and any other important pharmacy notes/instructions.

3.  Shopping list: Include their favorite foods (and any allergies) and hygiene items.

4.  List of any important upcoming events: There might be important events their loved ones need to attend, such as doctor appointments. If they need transportation, be sure they include times, directions and addresses to each place.

5.  Extra cash: It’s important for the caregiver to leave cash in case any expected and/or unexpected expenses occur during their absence.

6.  Extra set of keys: Be sure the caregiver leaves an extra set of keys to the house with a trusted neighbor, friend or family member.

7.  Other important notes and instructions: This can include their loved ones’ likes, dislikes, special needs, favorite movies, favorite foods and more. This can be especially important if there are memory problems such as dementia.

These instructions, notes and supplies are important to include in a plan of care. Be sure to go through other ideas with your client, such as different activities they can do with their loved ones (crafts, walks, etc.), household chores and daily care needs. A notebook that includes these items makes it easier on the caregiver, and it can be a project that can be shared with the loved one. They can be a part of the decision-making and can feel as though they have participated in their care planning.

Update important documents

Before it’s time to head out on their vacation, take time with your clients to make sure important documents are updated. Here are some important documents to go over:

• Power(s) of attorney, as well as a substitute power of attorney who is in town.

• Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) forms.

• Living wills.

• Insurance policies and cards.

Out-of-home options

If your client doesn’t have anyone who can stay home with their loved ones, there are out-of-home respite care options, as well. Many nursing homes, assisted living residences and other senior communities offer respite care on a short-term basis. They can provide a wide range of services depending on the patients’ needs. This can include dressing, eating, socialization, planned activities and more.

Costs vary depending on the location. Encourage your client to investigate any insurance coverage for this stay, asking the insurance provider as well as the community. Caregivers can find communities by asking for referrals at the local Area Agency on Aging.

For their loved ones to have an easy transition into a long-term care community, encourage your clients to visit several times before the trip along with the patients. The caregiver should take time to meet the staff members who will take direct care of their loved ones at the community. Here are some important things to go over with the staff:

• A phone number to call for check-ins and questions.

• Any emergency phone numbers.

• Their loved ones’ medications, with instructions on times and doses.

• Any other special needs they should be aware of.

Talk to an aging life care expert

It’s important for caregivers to know everything to prepare and keep in mind when going on vacation. Talking to their lawyer who specializes in elder law is a great first step. You can also encourage them to speak with an aging life care professional. They can be a great guide in helping your client make these important decisions, and they can be the person to oversee the loved ones’ care and be the point of contact if an emergency were to arise.

While caregivers can feel guilty taking a vacation, it’s important for their mental well-being to get away and take a break. Preparing for the vacation can be a daunting task. But you can help take that guilt and stress away from your clients by making sure they prepare now.•

Carol Applegate is an attorney at Applegate & Dillman Elder Law. The firm specializes in elder law and life care planning, a holistic approach to deal with legal, financial, medical and emotional issues involved in growing older. The firm has offices in Indianapolis, Carmel and Zionsville. Find out more at Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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