10 Essential Things To Do Now

caregiving 10 essential things to do now

by Kim Keller

My sister Karen and I learned a hard but valuable lesson not so long ago. Even with all the work we’d done on this website, we found out we were not as prepared as we thought, or hoped, we were. The simple truth is, there are certain things that should be implemented to help ensure your parent’s security and well-being in case of sudden illness or decline due to aging. Because of our dad’s prolonged illness, we had many of the items listed below already in place, but there were some things on this list that we just didn’t think about until our mom had a stroke. It took us completely by surprise because she was healthy and leading an independent and active life.  For example, we never dreamt it was time for a medical alert button, but her stroke served as a wake-up call for all of us.

Here’s our list of the 10 most valuable things to have in place for your parent right now. In our Checklists & More section, you’ll find blank templates for each of the various lists we recommend below.

  1. A list of all medications your parent is currently taking (including over-the-counter meds, vitamins and herbs). The list should specify all pertinent instructions (for example, 1 pill each morning with food), as well as the reason why each medication is taken (for high blood pressure, for cholesterol, etc.). It’s imperative to also note any allergies to medication.
  2. A medical history, which includes all surgeries and conditions, hospital stays, allergies, important immediate family medical history (for example, if your mom’s mom had breast cancer or your mom’s dad had diabetes), your parent’s birth date, and also be sure to mention information such as whether your parent has dentures, a pacemaker, a hearing aid, glasses, prosthetics, is a smoker, etc. – basically, try to give a complete picture of your parent’s physical and medical state. Also be sure to include health insurance contact and account numbers.
  3. A contact list of all relevant doctors.
  4. Post on your parent’s refrigerator a copy of the medication list, medical history and contact list of doctors, along with all other emergency contact numbers. It’s critical that these lists be easy to find in case of any emergency medical scenarios, such as EMTs coming to the house.
  5. Set up direct payment for bills and direct deposit for income. We did all of this online so that we’d have direct access to each account (billing statements, etc.), and we created a list that includes log-on user names, passwords, contact information, and account numbers, as well as banking information (account, routing and debit card numbers). Having your parent’s social security number is also important. Now, if your parent is still in good health, and these precautions seem premature, then at least have all of this information compiled and ready to go in case the need should arise. Needless to say, this is not the sort of information you want to leave lying around where anyone might glimpse it, but having it compiled in some secure location is still important in case of emergency.
  6. A durable power-of-attorney allowing a trusted person or persons to handle your parent’s personal business affairs, from banking to investments to real estate, etc. A “durable” power-of-attorney is preferable to a standard power of attorney because it’s set up specifically to deal with the possibility of your parent’s becoming disabled or incapacitated.
  7. A living will is essential as an advance medical directive regarding any life-prolonging procedures (such as being kept alive on life-support equipment). A living will can also direct any organ donation, if this is your parent’s choice. A living will is not a Do Not Resuscitate order (commonly called a DNR). A DNR form can be picked up in any hospital and must be signed by your parent’s doctor. It’s undoubtedly difficult to talk with your parent about personal end-of-life wishes, but it’s very important to do so. These issues can prove to be divisive to a family if your parent’s requests have not already been put down in writing. We recommend using Five Wishes, created by the non-profit organization Aging With Dignity.
  8. A healthcare proxy is also necessary in case your parent is incapable of making his or her own healthcare choices regarding such options as surgery, hospice, experimental treatments, etc. A living will already designates a healthcare proxy, but if your parent decides against a living will, it’s essential to have a healthcare proxy drawn up separately.
  9. A will or trust to make sure that your parent’s final decisions regarding the disposition of any estate are followed.
  10. A medical alert button in case of emergency. We set up an account for our mom with Response Link at 1-800-894-1428, responselink.com, and it costs $38.95/month. They provided her with an alert button, which she wears around her neck, and a two-way communication device for her home in case of an emergency. There are many terrific services available – we just happened to choose Response Link because it was recommended to us by a friend. Here’s an important tip:  Avoid any service that requires you to sign a long-term contract.

Regarding the legal documents mentioned in numbers 6 through 9 above, you can either use an attorney or draw them up yourself with the help of an online site such as Nolo.com, which offers blank forms for these various documents. If you have a complicated legal situation, we recommend you hire an attorney.


Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.

Photo is by Karen Keller Capuciati.

This blog was originally published on April 7, 2011.

Tags: , , , , , ,

42 Responses to “10 Essential Things To Do Now”

  1. Helen (forsyth) Richardson says:

    Thank You Kim and Karen.You are an Inspiration to everyone. This list has a couple of things that I didn’t think about. I am now at the age where I have to get my life in order so that it is not a thing that my family will have to worry about. God Bless You Both and keep you safe. Love and Prayers.