The Elder Law Minute TM
Lessening the Stress of Caregiving
By Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq.
Taking care of an elderly loved one can be exhausting and stressful. Caregivers often lack outside help and shoulder all the responsibilities of the elderly in addition to the responsibilities of the caregiver’s own life. The stress of caregiving can be reduced significantly by proper planning. Caregivers should also consider taking a few precautionary measures to de-stress in order to avoid burnout, injury or illness which will result in their inability to take care of their loved one.
Proper planning involves identifying potential issues that may arise due to incapacity, and setting up the steps to resolving such issues. Legal issues must not be overlooked as it can be a source of significant stress for caregivers because legal issues, such as petitioning for guardianship of an incapacitated elderly, can become time-consuming and costly. The following are two major legal issues seniors and caregivers must consider:
- Setting up the proper legal authority for health care and financial decision-making by a caregiver. A health care proxy is a necessary legal document to secure the proper legal authority of a caregiver to make health care decisions of the incapacitated. A power of attorney on the other hand is necessary to secure the proper legal authority to make financial decisions. Absent a good power of attorney and healthcare proxy, in the event of incapacity, it is usually necessary to petition a court for guardianship, and that is a costly and time-consuming process.
- Setting up a plan to pay for long-term care. Long-term care costs for home care or nursing home care can be exorbitant. Long-term care insurance may be an appropriate plan to pay for such costs, but, these policies cannot be purchased after a long-term care illness. Therefore, Medicaid (not Medicare) is usually the only alternative to pay for long-term care costs. However, Medicaid eligibility is based on the income and resources of the elderly, and therefore prior planning is often necessary in order to qualify for these benefits.
In addition to proper planning, caregivers should consider some of the following practical ways to de-stress:
- Take a break every day. Make sure you have some down time to relax, whether it’s watching television, reading the newspaper, or calling a friend. Make sure you do at least one thing for yourself every day.
- Take a break every week. If possible, get out of the house at least once a week to do something you want to do — go to the movies, have dinner with friends, whatever works for you. If you cannot get someone to cover for you, have friends over to your house.
- Get respite. Take a break of at least a week at least once a year. You can hire help in the house or arrange for a respite stay at an assisted living facility or nursing home.
- Get regular exercise. It’s necessary for your health and to moderate any stress you may be feeling. If you can’t get out of the house to exercise, buy or rent a stationary bicycle or other exercise equipment.
- Eat well. Make sure you stay healthy and have sufficient energy to do what you need to for your loved one.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep will sap your patience and reserves, making it more difficult for you to provide the care you would like to give your loved one.
- Join a support group. While you may or may not be in this alone, you’re not the only one in this situation. Others are going through similar experiences.
- Hire a geriatric care manager. An experienced geriatric care manager can help you determine whether your loved one is receiving the most appropriate care and what resources in the community are available to assist you.
Therefore, make sure that you consult an elder law attorney and have a plan in place to pay for long-term care expenses. In addition, make sure that your attorney prepares any and all documentation that may be needed, such as a will, trust, power of attorney, health care proxy and living will. And then, make sure that you take care of yourself. Think of the caregiving as a marathon, not a sprint. Caregivers must pace themselves and conserve their energy for the long-term. Too much stress and exhaustion won’t help you or your loved one.
Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq. is the principal of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates, a law firm that concentrates in elder law, estate planning, Medicaid planning, guardianships, estate administration, trusts and wills. The firm has offices in Forest Hills, Great Neck, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Cedarhurst, NY. Mr. Fatoullah is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. He has been named a “fellow” of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a former member of its Board of Directors. Mr. Fatoullah chairs the Legal Committee of the Alzheimer’s Association, LI Chapter, and serves on its Board of Directors