Although many of us would prefer to care for ourselves until the day we die, the reality is that most of us will need support to maintain our safety and quality of life in later years.
A support network is very important in later years when declines in function, movement and thought make daily life difficult. You may find it hard to drive or get medications refilled. If you are able to live alone, a call button to summon people in your care circle is very important for those times when you can't reach a phone.
Often, the shift to needing help is unexpected and sudden. That makes it very important to plan early on for help with appointments, medications, diet, and transportation.
Other changes are gradual and may go unnoticed by family and friends. Denial by loved ones in regard to someone's need for help or concern by the older adult about being a burden often compounds the situation. Some signs that more help is needed include:
All transitions are challenging, so understanding the changes and preparing for them can make the difference between a smooth or a rocky course. Key conversations with family and neighbors about how you want future help should be as normal as talking about other life events like getting married, having children, or retiring. These talks need to begin when memory is failing, mobility is limited, or vision is impaired, but ideally they should happen well before that.
Caregiving may be provided by an informal network of family or neighbors, hired professionals, or both. Caregiving is hard work. Support, particularly for informal caregivers, is part of caring for the older adult. Often informal caregivers are also older, which poses concerns for the health and well-being of both caregiver and recipient.
People who take part in caregiving can turn to many resources for support. The CARE Act (Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable Act) has been passed in many states. This important legislation requires hospitals to identify and record the name of the caregiver and include that individual in discharge planning. This helps the caregiver during the key transition from hospital to home.