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Task: Parental Guidance: Caring For Your Folks

When the roles reverse for a person and they’re suddenly the caregiver to a parent, it can be tough on many levels.

Watching a parent’s health or faculties decline is extremely difficult. If you want to make it through without having a breakdown, you have to take a lot of deep breaths and focus on what you can control.

Let’s start with medical issues by creating an overarching assessment to find out what you’re up against. Is it a chronic and ongoing issue that needs to be managed or is it an acute or terminal illness where time is limited? In either instance, you need a plan that starts by gathering up the following information:

Doctors and Caregivers

We covered how to organize your own doctors in a separate task, now you’ll want to do the same for your parents, but with a twist. Managing each doctor can be complicated — some of them may overlap — but the goal is to keep them from running a parent around in circles. For example, ordering tests that they’ve already done a number of times.

Create a list that can be managed by you and shared with anyone else offering care. If it’s a technically savvy crew it can be a shared document, but paper is fine in this instance since the contacts should be limited to only the most essential.

Along with doctors, are there any home, nursing, or assisted-living contacts? What about an ambulatory service or a driver (who’s not you)? These people need to go on the list too.

Medications and Treatments

Managing prescriptions for another person can easily feel like a part-time job, albeit a necessary one since the wrong dosage could have adverse consequences. To confirm the right meds are taken at the right time, and to keep everyone on the same page, you need to be organized. Here’s how to do it:

  • Make a list of every medication that needs to be taken, even if it’s over the counter
  • Include the name of the pharmacy or service that delivers the drugs
  • Add the name of the prescribing doctor, who should also be listed on the contact sheet
  • Directions for taking them, including frequency, timing, with or without food, and any other requirements
  • Instructions for when to refill them so you don’t run out

We suggest doing all of this in a digital document because a handwritten piece of paper is a pain to update, potentially hard for others to read, and could get lost between multiple caregivers.

If you’re in charge of filling the pill case with the daily, weekly, or monthly dosages, set reminders on your phone or try out a medication app. If someone else needs to pitch in because you have other obligations, and you will, print out instructions and be confident they won’t mess it up.

There may also be a matter of equipment or specialized care, which should go in the same document. It could also include instructions for following a specific diet, an exercise or physical therapy program, when to test insulin, or more extreme measures like catheter cleaning or regularly turning a bedridden loved one to avoid sores.

The Money Factor

We’ll keep this short because talking about health insurance can make even the healthiest person feel sick by following these main points:

  • What type of primary insurance do they have (Medicare, Medicaid, private)?
  • Do they have any supplemental insurance policies?
  • Is medication included as part of these policies or is it separate?
  • How do you get reimbursements?

It’s never easy to stay on top of all the bills but it’s necessary, especially if your parents are on a fixed income. Often, you may think something is covered only to find out later it wasn’t, forcing you to waste time and mental energy on the phone disputing the charges. Ease this management burden slightly by at least adding the information on how to access your parent’s various health-related accounts online to your own password-keeping method.


For those with some experience in caring for aging parents, you might know all about medical directives, such as an Advance Directive, DNR, or POLST form. If you don’t it’s time to look into them when you’re preparing your own (covered here). The same applies to their Will, POA, and any other important documents. Know the location of these documents, and to be safe, upload digital copies to an Everplan.

The Task

For those who are dealing with a parent or loved one in need of care you probably read everything here and thought: “This is all well and good, but my parents can drive me absolutely crazy! They don’t listen to my advice, won’t follow the diet, constantly complain about every doctor, never want to take their meds...”

We get it. On paper this seems much easier, but personal idiosyncrasies can derail the best of plans. This is why you need to take a breath and stick to the things you can control, which are the details listed above. No matter how frustrating it may get, remember that people in need of care are also frustrated. Unless they’re suffering from a horrible disease that greatly reduces their faculties, they should be playing an active role in their own care.

Even though you might want to punch a pillow every time they test your patience on the smallest details, try and remember why you’re doing this. You think they enjoyed getting no sleep for the first few years of your life, or freaking out when you missed curfew by an hour? They cared for you when you needed it. Now it’s their turn.

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