John M. Crowe: 15 Lessons From the Caregiver of an Elderly Parent

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This advice comes from my own experience over the last year and a half plus being part of the online support group.

Our guest blogger, Dr. John M. Crowe, offers this advice to pastors who are caregivers for their own parents, recipients of care from their own family members, or counselors to congregants in the caregiving role.  
 This advice comes from my own experience over the last year and a half plus being part of the online support group.

  1. Before their health starts down a slippery slope, make sure you or a sibling has both Durable and Medical Powers of Attorney (POA). Very often, the elder's spouse is not a good choice because you never know that will happen to their health. Or you could have them listed first and yourself second. 
  2. Once you have the POA's drawn up, keep them in your possession, filed somewhere in your house where you can locate them quickly..Tell people in your family that you have them and where they're stored; they might remember when a crisis comes up better than you will.
  3. Make a copy of both original POA's to carrry in the glove box of each car you own for you really don't want to leave home without them in the case of an emergency.
  4. You will need both POAs when you go to the doctor or to the hospital with your parent.
  5. If your parent has dementia, it is best for her doctor to determine that s/he is not able to conduct their own business in a competent manner and that it is time for you to use the Durable and Medical POA on their behalf. Let the doctor know what is going on and that you need their assessment and help with your parent grasping the need for this transition.
  6. If, as your parent's POA, you have to sign and file their taxes,  you will need to inform the IRS of your POA and they will provide you with a Central Authorization File, (CAF) number to use in a form that you will use in filing.
  7. Be prepared for various financial and business institutions related to your parent's estate to request a copy or a certified copy of your durable POA in conducting transactions; paying bills with their checks; and anything else that comes up that your durable POA authorizes you to do in your parent's behalf. For example, each bank where they have an account or joint account must have a copy of your Durable POA. The hospital and each doctor must have a copy of the Medical POA on file. If they go to a nursing home or some facility outside of your house, it need copies of both POAs and a copy of any existing living will.
  8. Make sure that you know where your parent's will is kept and if they have a living will. 
  9. Make sure their personal finances, like their income and property taxes, are all in order.
  10. Find out if they have a long term health care policy and get your hands on it. It might contain some provisions for home health care before assisted living or a nursing home are needed.
  11. Find a local support group and/or go to for support, community and good information.
  12. Realize that online support and even local group support is not always enough to help us overcome family-of-origin issues which so often rise up for us to deal with while an aging parent declines. So, keep an open mind about possibly going to see a therapist, a pastor, etc
  13. Be on the lookout for emotional and mental F.O.G. (Fear, Obligation and Guilt) surrounding youwhich impacts your own life and health. It is important think you recognize the FOG or listen to someone who sees it when you don't.. Otherwise, you will fail to take the break you need before you break and join the ranks of fallen caregivers in terms of your own health, marriage, job, personal and retirement finances, relationships with your own children, etc. If you are married, you and your spouse need to work through these issues together, since your spouse is part of the equation in delivering this care.
  14. Insight into your issues and need to change is not enough to bring about change. Very often a therapist is more prepared by training than most pastors to help you gain the tools needed at this point in the journey.
  15. While our aging and declining parents may or may not really grasp or appreciate it, it's really in their best interest and ours as caregivers to make that psychological shift in the changing of the roles to be the adult child caregiver who sees through, past and above the F.O.G. in making decisions about their parent's care and their own care.

In solidarity,

John Marshal Crowe, Ph.D., M. Div.

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