This may just be one of my favorite parts of the life-care planning process: building the care-partner team. You naturally have tons of questions as you and/or a loved one make important preparations. Yes, they’re all equally important! But selecting the care partners that’ll be there for support in good times and bad is the foundation on which a life worth living is built.
What’s a care-partner team? Admittedly, the common vernacular out there today usually favors the term “caregiver(s).” However, most professional circles involved in care for aging and life’s late stages now prefer person-centered care and language. “Care partner” empowers and uplifts both the individual(s) at the center of care and their beloved helpers.
So let’s build that vital network of support. It’s a team effort. Success, health and happiness requires everyone doing their part.
Building a Care-Partner Team: Who Should We Include?
The great thing is there’s no wrong answer. No one says your spouse has to be a primary care partner – if that’s your choice. No one says your care-partner team must include children or any other close family – if that’s your choice. It certainly can include them – if that’s your choice. And there are a host of other professionals and agencies that may help the team – if that’s your choice.
I am a primary care partner to my life partner, Brian LeBlanc, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. That means I’m present in his life daily to offer assistance any way I can. Admittedly, it works out well because I’m a professional life-care planner and Board-certified patient advocate. (But here’s a little secret: you don’t need to be a professional to be an expert care partner guided by love.)
So let’s build your team today.
Circles of Support
Think of a care-partner team as a series of concentric circles. Your loved one sits at the center. They receive care, of course, but under the person-focused care philosophy they’re actually tackling the most important job of directing it. Everyone else surrounding them plays vital and specific roles – non-professional and otherwise – either directly providing love and support or offering guidance. And as an added bonus, everyone on the team both gives and receives care.
The First Circle
Surrounding your loved one(s) may include family, friends, neighbors and other good people who hold a special place in their heart. Makes sense, right? They’re typically quite close. They may visit frequently or even live in the same residence. So on a day-to-day basis, care-partner tasks may look like business as usual. A spouse may organize medications, plan meals and shop for groceries. A sister may clean and do other household chores. A nephew may walk the dog, balance the checkbook or simply visit for coffee.
Who these people are and the depth of their responsibilities is up to you. It’s helpful to identify a family lead person (FLP), someone with close proximity, availability and a strong familiarity with their daily needs, wants and routines.
A beloved spouse may desire to see their love and devotion through “’Til death do us part.” But poor health and death comes earlier for some than others. An adult child or sibling may assume a lead role, but there’s no hard-and-fast rule saying the FLP has to actually be family. A neighbor or longtime friend – or even someone they happened to “click with” in the park a few months back – could head the care-partner team.
What else to look for in the first-circle team members? Dependability and accountability. The care-partner team is also there to support the primary care partner. Sure, you’ll seek those with the warmest, most personal relationships. But that alone doesn’t make a great care partner. Even the kindest people may not be ready or available to assist the care required.
Deeply connected family members can also lack the mental toughness, unbiased lens, personal health, self-awareness and/or financial freedom to serve lead roles. That doesn’t mean they’re useless to the team and individual. They may simply have to take another supporting role in the best interest of your loved one(s).
Think positive energy and responsibility.
The Second Circle
A well-made life-care plan should next factor community professionals, agencies and support systems. Effective care takes a village, whether an individual lives with a terminal illness or is aging in good health.
The first options are obvious. Most folks have a primary care physician. Getting up in age, most continue to collect more doctors, clinicians and other specialists who help with distinct conditions. You know the types: heart doctors, neurologists, oncologists and endocrinologists to name a few. Their titles and expertise are ever complex. (Say otolaryngologist 10 times fast! I’d rather just say “ear, nose and throat doctor.”)
But there’s more to aging – and certainly more to terminal illness – than just the specialists that help medical care. You should also be considering end-of-life care options, like hospice and/or palliative care, because the dying process truly demands comfort and resources. And then there are financial and legal preparations, because we must be ready to guide the distribution of assets and the execution of final wishes.
But wait! There’s more!
Your loved one may require living transition and placement services to accommodate home health care or move to assisted-living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, memory care or other senior-living services. Planned or not, these are often vital to maintaining a life worth living and quality of care as health conditions worsen.
They may need real estate assistance to sell and buy property meeting specific needs. Their needs may include more personal care preferences for:
- Religious services/spiritual counseling
- Respite care/adult daycare
- Medicaid/VA planning
- Home care
- Comfort care
- Domestic services (housekeeping, meal delivery and cooking, etc.)
- A death doula
An experienced Board-certified patient advocate and life-care planner can coordinate and refer all personal and professional services requested on the care-partner team.
A Board-Certified Patient Advocate Coordinates the Whole Care-Partner Team
Care partners come in all forms. They’re family. They’re friends. They’re professionals. They each serve an important role in a life worth living. Some services may not be required for years, but you should organize resources early for when it’s time to mobilize.
I assist individuals and their care-partner teams every day. And then I come home to fulfill our life-care plan with my life partner/care partner, Brian. If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC can help you from beginning to end.