Fire Drill! Is Your Life-Care Plan Ready for the Unexpected?

    I’m a professional life-care planner. I’ve been helping people and their loved ones plan for advancing age and terminal illnesses for decades. It’s critical to be prepared. Just a few short weeks ago, our own plan fell apart.

    It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying or expertise. By all accounts, the life-care plan Brian (my life partner/care partner) and I have built together was rock solid. It factors all eventualities from finances to his dementia-related needs to both of our final wishes.

    But I was deathly ill with pneumonia. Brian needed help that could not be found. I’d hate to consider the worst-case scenario. What horrors could befall us with me dead or incapacitated in the hospital and the love of my life on his own for God knows how long?

    It happened to us — professionals who make a living by building life-care plans and related disciplines. It could happen to you. So this got me thinking. You must fire drill your plan.

    Your Life-Care Plan Shouldn’t Be Left to Chance. Test It Out!

    Yours or your loved one’s plan could be simple or dramatically complex. You or your loved one may be in good health, with only very basic measures to ensure financial affairs are in order and end-of-life care is prepared. Or you may anticipate poor health and many logistical layers needed to deliver appropriate care (for everyone involved).

    In either case, and anything in between, let’s test out the life-care plan.

    Care-Partner Support & Responsibilities

    This part sticks out, first and foremost, because it was what caused the most uncertainty and fear. I was ill. Brian lives with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. A brief hospital stay likely wouldn’t be an issue. He’s cognizant enough to care for himself and set reminders to complete daily tasks on foggy days. But a lengthy stay … he would need some assistance.

    Which is where other members of the care-partner team come in to save the day, right? Yes, in theory. But in our case, through no fault of their own, family and friends were out of town or unavailable. This is especially common during the holidays, when both primary and secondary care partners may be understandably busy with other trips and engagements. 

    These responsibilities don’t involve only those who will be called upon to “sit” for a loved one or dependent. Care-partner support may cover any need (again, for everyone involved). For example:

    • A neighbor may agree to provide transportation to doctor appointments, in a pinch.
    • An adult child may help with bathing, cooking and cleaning.
    • A spouse may organize daily prescriptions and other medical recommendations.
    • A sibling may help with yard work and other household chores during prolonged facility stays.
    • A cousin with financial expertise may be entrusted to pay bills when you or a loved one are unavailable/incapacitated.
    • A grandchild may stop by for visits (wellness checks) when you’re away from home.

    No role is too big or too small. Each person on the care-partner team has something important to do. But let’s test for hiccups and other surprises.

    How to Test the Plan

    As I said before, it was no one’s fault that they weren’t available in our recent crisis. We had family members, other loved ones and friends in other states. Some wouldn’t be able to help due to Covid. How were they to know amidst their busy lives and other primary responsibilities? It was “the perfect storm.”

    So how do you test your plan? Game a scenario. Don’t tell them it’s a fire drill until afterward

    Without causing alarm, call a primary care partner with a task. “I’m heading out of town for an emergency meeting. Could you please come help out with Mom?”

    Call another supporting care partner. “Hey, are you available to help Dad with the yardwork this weekend? We’ll be away getting some tests.” Or perhaps, “Could you please help with bathing and getting Greg to bed tonight? Work called, and I won’t be able to.” 

    Are the people you’re counting on available when needed? How quickly could they get there? Would there be a wait until they arrive? If so, is it manageable? Were their reasons valid? Did they answer at all?

    You could even gather the entire care-partner team for a military-style drill in which everyone acts out an emergency scenario. Pretend your loved one had a significant emergency and the team must take action:

    Running through the plan — even if it’s just verbally — reaffirms responsibilities for each person involved. Like anything in life, practice makes perfect.

    How to Adjust the Plan

    It should be immediately clear who’s willing and available in a pinch. It should be known who’s ready and capable to accept certain responsibilities. But, most importantly, fire drilling the life-care plan may identify uncertainties that can be easily fixed with alternatives. Essentially, “If Aunt Betty isn’t available, who’s the next best option?” And, “If the next best option isn’t available, then who next?” 

    Sometimes the best choice may not even be family, friends or neighbors. You may have to include community agencies in the contingency plans. Resources like home care, adult daycare, respite care and assisted living can provide guidance, structure and lodging, when needed. Of course, not everyone could afford hourly rates for certain services or would be eligible for Medicaid to cover them.

    You may even run across a situation in which your loved one refuses care or assistance in an emergency. If it’s a matter of life and death — as our situation was — sometimes the best a care partner can do is call adult protective services. 

    Testing Your Life-Care Plan Gives Peace of Mind

    Although I was very sick, I’m GLAD the plan fell through. It was very eye-opening and allowed me to factor uncertain scenarios for the future.

    As a professional life-care planner and a Board-certified Patient Advocate, I assist individuals and their care-partner teams every day. And then I come home to fulfill our life-care plan with my Brian. If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC can help you to build a plan and refer you to great community care resources.