Nearly 25 percent of Americans serve as informal caregivers for family members, friends, and neighbors. And with many baby boomers making the transition from caregiver to care recipient, the role has never been more important.
“Iowans and South Dakotans are caregivers by nature,” says Paul Karazija, M.D., Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield chief medical officer. “We’re tightly connected to our extended families, and we stand ready to help when our loved ones face disease, disability or other significant health issues.”
However, while care giving is a rewarding experience, Karazija cautions that it can also be draining – both emotionally and physically. “Caregivers need to make sure and take care of themselves along the way, and look for ways to make the job easier.”
Caregivers can provide the most effective assistance to both their loved ones and themselves by following these four basic tips:
Create a personal health record
“Assembling all the information in one place makes the caregiver’s job a lot easier,” Karazija says. “A health record also helps physicians prescribe the most appropriate treatment, and may reduce the need for repeat visits.”
The personal health record should include:
- Health insurance and/or Medicare membership cards
- A narrative health history, including any operations, hospitalizations or chronic health conditions
- A list of all current medicines, including the doses and how long the drugs have been prescribed
- A list of all the doctors – both primary care providers and medical specialists – that a family member has seen in the last two years
Pursue Durable Power of Attorney
Health care privacy laws often prevent doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies from disclosing a loved one’s personal health information without authorization. To facilitate care giving, many families pursue Durable Power of Attorney.
Durable Power of Attorney allows caregivers to access a loved one’s health information, and also grants the caregiver power to make decisions if the family member is incapable of doing so for medical reasons. Sample Durable Power of Attorney forms are available online, or through an attorney’s office.
Most health insurance companies, including Wellmark and Medicare, can also authorize the disclosure of personal health information on a limited basis.
Be on the lookout for additional assistance
Medicare enrollees can access additional assistance through a variety of programs. The Social Security Administration, for example, offers help for low-income beneficiaries with a prescription drug program (for more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/extrahelp). Enrolling in a chronic disease program may also qualify loved ones for extra assistance.
The choice of a supplemental Medicare plan itself can take away the uncertainty around out-of-pocket medical bills. Plan “F,” the most popular supplement option, provides the most comprehensive benefits – once the premium is paid, the supplemental insurance pays for all remaining Medicare-covered medical costs. Wellmark and some other insurers also offer special discounts for their Medicare supplement members.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
One of the biggest mistakes caregivers make is that they spend so much time caring for their loved ones that they forget to care for themselves. Karazija says that while some may feel guilty for taking time out for their own physical and mental health, it’s always the right thing to do.
“We don’t always think of it this way, but it’s really common sense,” he says. “You can’t take care of others without taking care of yourself first.”
Karazija suggest walks and other forms of exercise, going to dinner or a movie, and taking an occasional day off. Caregivers should also seek professional help if the stress of care giving becomes too much, or if they feel depressed.
For more information on health and health insurance, call the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Personal Health Assistant 24/7 at 1-800-724-9122.