Advocating for Your Loved One: What You Need to Know

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Article by 

Rick Lauber

Older adults who become unable to handle their own affairs can become frustrated, angry or confused. This means others must, often tactfully, become involved. When my father lost his memory and his ability to talk as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, I was left to serve as his advocate. I was essentially becoming his eyes, ears and voice.

Protecting someone’s quality of life and managing their personal and business affairs is a significant task for a family member or friend to take on. Although to make it official, you will need legal forms filed. It is not as complex or daunting as you might think. First, you must decide what sort of advocacy you loved one requires. The most common two types are Enduring Guardianship and Power of Attorney.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

You may be wondering what distinguishes the two. The key difference is that a Power of Attorney makes decisions over financial and legal affairs. Whereas an Enduring Guardian has the power to decide on matters regarding lifestyle, health, and welfare.

However, they are similar in that they are both legal documents. Both also provide the carer with the power to act on your behalf. This comes into effect when you no longer have the capacity to do so. Both documents are usually part of your Will or estate plan.

SHOULD I HAVE BOTH?

Short answer – yes. While it may seem unnecessary or unlikely you will need an Enduring Guardian or a Power of Attorney, things can happen. It is important to appoint both an Enduring Guardian and a Power of Attorney. Both play important roles in ensuring your affairs remain in order, and your wishes are heard.

When you are choosing someone to appoint, it is important you trust them. Further, you should ensure they have your best interests at heart and that they understand your wishes. For assistance in actioning these matters, you can customise the General Power of Attorney legal document. These can be found at ‘legal-information’ on the myagedcare.gov.au website for free. The rules are different in each state and territory. Contact the relevant authority where you live, or your legal adviser, for details on the guardianship and administration laws in your state or territory. If you are in South Australia, the Guardian is referred to as the Administrator.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

While an Enduring Guardian and a Power of Attorney may seem similar, there is a fundamental difference in their powers. It is always best to be proactive and appoint people in these roles early before it becomes an urgent matter.

For more information and advice, we recommend consulting an Estate Planning Lawyer for assistance.

Ask questions:

Talk to everyone involved with your loved one’s care. Remember, when advocating for someone else, there are no foolish questions. Ask until you fully understand. As a former co-carer, I carried around a notebook and pen and made sure I took it to every appointment. I wrote down responses and returned to them later to ensure my complete understanding before reviewing my to-do list. Thankfully, many phones now have a voice recorder. I suggest taking a few minutes immediately following each appointment to record your thoughts and comments shared (so that you don’t miss anything).

Take advocating seriously and let your loved one’s facility staff or professional carers know that you are serious about doing so.

Peer into the parental closet:

I’m not asking you to look for skeletons! Rather, this is fully practical advice that can help make sure your loved one is being well looked after. Check that their room (including the closet) is swept/vacuumed and mopped daily so that germs don’t pose a health risk. If they are in a care facility, check the facility’s public washrooms, stairwells and food-service areas. Dirt can accumulate under furniture as well. We attached small wheels to the bottom of a bookcase in Dad’s room so that cleaners could easily roll the bookcase aside to clean.

As a carer, you need to speak up for your loved one. But if you are having doubts about your own ideas or need help with the legality of policies, care costs or human rights issues, then there are a number of local and free government organisations you can turn to.

Plan sporadic visits:

Years ago, when Dad was alive, I would stop in to see him every Sunday afternoon – like clockwork. But I certainly didn’t stop there! There were intermittent visits as well. By dropping in sporadically, I felt better able to see any inconsistencies with my father’s care (or even that of other residents).

Schedule visits around resident mealtimes. These can be hectic times at a care facility. Is your loved one eating a full meal and getting any help necessary?

Monitor health and grooming:

While you may not have the medical knowledge to diagnose a problem, it can be easy to identify a person in pain. Does your loved one limp when walking? Are they grimacing when bending over? Keep your eyes open for any unexplained sores, cuts or bruises on their body. Watch to make sure personal support workers are managing to keep your parent groomed and clean.

Are clothes coming back from the laundry or are they getting lost? Monitor the bathing schedule—how often are baths or showers provided? I also routinely check my father’s chin stubble to confirm that he’s been shaved.

Insist on regular updates:

Keep open lines of communication with your loved one’s care facility or care providers. If your relative has been moved to another room, isn’t eating or needs a change to their medical prescription, you will want to know. Providing the care facility or care provider with your up-to-date contact details is also important. But it is even more important to be proactive and call in regularly.

Meet with management:

I was able to schedule meetings with the facility’s management to talk about Dad’s ongoing health, ask questions and, if necessary, air grievances. If you do need to raise an issue, be sure to create a paper trail. I would always send a quick email to the facility’s manager following our meeting that read something like: “Thank you for meeting with us today. As discussed, I understand that you have noted [whatever concern] and have recommended [whatever answer].”

If follow-up is necessary, state a date when you will be back in touch for further discussion. Remember to copy other family members on your emails and perhaps print out copies to save.

Look beyond your immediate resources:

As a carer, you need to speak up for your loved one. But if you are having doubts about your own ideas or need help with the legality of policies, care costs or human rights issues, then there are a number of local and free government organisations you can turn to. Take advocating seriously and let your loved one’s facility staff or professional carers know that you are serious about doing so.

Rick Lauber is a published author and freelance writer of The Successful Carergivers Guide

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