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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published March 09 2013

Minding Our Elders: I’m suddenly a caregiver, now how do I start?

Dear Carol: Like many boomers, I’ve suddenly become a caregiver. I live in my parents’ community but have a demanding job and a family. My parents were doing well until Dad had a stroke. Now, he’s home and not showing too much damage, but I’ve become aware that they could use a few changes to make their house easier to navigate. We also need to get some legal work done.

According to some of my colleagues who’ve been through this, the time is likely coming when they’ll need in-home care, as Mom can’t continue to do all that she’s doing.

Eventually, there could be transportation problems. I’d like to look into light housekeeping help, cooking and even nursing care, just so I’m prepared. Even meal delivery would be good. I know the problems, but I don’t know where to start to find solutions. – Aaron

Dear Aaron: In your hurry to help, you need to be careful not to act as though now that your dad has had a stroke, you are taking over. Keep communicating with your parents about their wishes and their needs.

As for where to start, type the name of your state and the word “aging” into your web browser. By doing so, you’ll find an abundance of helpful links, one of which is your state’s version of the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP). The NFCSP will provide you with significant help in finding local resources, often through your regional services center.

I’d suggest that you ask your colleagues who’ve traveled this road before you if they would have any recommendations for competent estate attorneys who can do the legal work. Most estate attorneys will do a good job for you, but having a recommendation or two should help you feel more comfortable with your choice.

As far as home modifications go, you can likely find someone just by checking your Yellow Pages, but be sure to ask for references. There are companies that specialize in adaptations for elders and people with disabilities, but honesty and quality work is the most important factor.

In-home care agencies offer custodial care such as cooking and housekeeping, and some of them offer nursing services. It’s advisable to ask for references from any agency you choose. For meal delivery, Meals on Wheels offers low cost weekday lunches. The program is staffed mostly by volunteers, but is available nationwide. Their number should be in your phone book.

Transportation services also differ community by community. Locally, the Senior Commission offers van rides. Paratransit buses are also available to accommodate people with disabilities. If you check with your NFCSP, they can likely help you with this issue, as well.

You’re smart to think ahead. While it would be nice to find everything with one click, unfortunately, that’s not reality. The alternative to doing this research on your own is to hire a geriatric care manager. This can be an excellent approach, particularly if issues and frustrations become numerous, but it can be expensive.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.