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By Marsha Kay Seff

October 24, 2013 (San Diego) – In your job as a caregiver, you probably won’t be able to avoid a crisis.  But being prepared for one will help make things easier for you and your parents.

The biggest mistake you can make is being complacent until the inevitable happens.  By then, you will have to move too quickly with limited options and a big chance of making mistakes.

Don’t waste time in denial.  It’s a given that your parents will get older and frailer.  By the time they fall, are hospitalized, or end up with full-blown dementia, it’s too late to set up a plan.

Now, you can take your time, make wiser choices and even include your parents in the decision-making process.  First off, make sure they’re safe, that they’re eating well, still getting around and socializing with friends, and that the cookware isn’t charred, or the car beginning to show dents.

Information is the key to a good plan.  Start educating yourself about what’s available where they live or closer to you.  San Diego has some of the best resources for older folks and their caregivers in the country.  Among the phone numbers you’ll want to keep handy are Aging & Independence Services, (800) 510-2020; Southern Caregiving Resource Center, (858) 268-4432; and the Alzheimer’s Association – San Diego/Imperial Chapter, (858) 492-4400.

Get to know your parents’ doctors.  You can’t expect to barge in at the last moment and be treated as part of the team.

Introduce yourself to your folks’ friends, neighbors and fellow church members and collect phone numbers.

Though it might not be easy to broach the subject, it’s not too early to talk with parents about their desires, opinions and concerns about possible aging and care. 

Look around their house to make sure there are no loose rugs to trip up your parents, clutter in the pathways, or cupboards stuffed with things that might fall on their heads.

Be honest with yourself from the beginning.  What care are you willing and able to give now and later on?  Be realistic about your feelings, physical abilities, financial means, and other family support.

Though they might be hesitant to confide in you about their finances, try to get your parents to talk honestly about the subject.  Consider their ages, health, expected inflation in the cost of care and housing, uncovered health-insurance costs (you know these are going to increase), retirement and pension plans, and Social Security payments and savings.

Consult with an attorney to make sure all legal and financial documents are in order.  Among them, make sure you have a signed HIPAA waiver, which will allow you or your siblings to talk directly with doctors and others on your parents’ behalf.

Call a family meeting to divvy up responsibilities today and in the future.  Sharing the load will help ease tensions.  And even family members across the country can pitch in with some duties.

Though your folks might not yet need in-home care and assistance, it’s a good idea to begin interviewing a few companies.  That way, when the time comes, you won’t have to scurry around starting from scratch and, perhaps, settle for less than you’d like.  If your parents can afford just a few hours of help a week, it’s a good idea to get it now.  This will lessen the fear later of having to open their door to a stranger.

There are also some shared-housing programs in San Diego.  Among them are ElderHelp at (619) 284-9281.  ElderHelp will assist in finding someone to live with your parents free or for low rent in exchange for helping them out with chores, etc.

Look into retirement homes now.  Visit a few and even enjoy lunch and some activities there.  Do your parents prefer the places where they have to dress up for meals or the more-casual homes?  Do they like smaller home-like settings or a campus atmosphere?  Trying the facilities out now will take some of the fear out of moving later on.

And there’s an important caveat to being prepared for a crisis.  Remember that not everything is a crisis.  I used to use “the 24-hour rule” -- When something goes wrong, see if it’s possible to wait 24 hours before going into panic mode.  Most situations will resolve themselves if you’re patient and wait for the sun to come up.

Sponsored by Right at Home In-Home Care & Assistance,, (619) 200-2110, Contact Marsha Kay Seff at

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