November is National Family Caregiver Awareness Month, and one of the biggest challenges facing family caregivers is how they can more effectively advocate for their dependent loved ones. Whether an elder parent, a child with special needs, or a spouse with a severe medical condition, taking charge of a dependent relative’s affairs is a daunting task, especially when confronting the health care system or attempting to secure financial support. 

Family caregivers are not alone. Organizations like the Caregiver Action Network and the Family Caregiver Alliance, as well as the legal community, provide wide-ranging resources and support services for caregivers who need help. This November, let us share several recommendations for sharpening caregiver advocacy skills that you may use now and throughout the year.

1. Pay Attention. Family caregivers may need to actively press for their loved one’s best interests, and not assume important care services and outcomes will fall into place by happenstance. Taking charge begins with paying attention, and evaluating a loved one’s current care. What works? What is missing? What could be improved? Is the dependent relative able to express feedback? Pursue as many care options as possible, and continue to monitor results.

2. Communication. When it comes to doctors, lawyers, financial professionals, and insurance companies, family caregivers are often at an information disadvantage. They do not, however, have to shy away, or feel intimidated. Caregivers have every right to speak up when they need help. They can also move on from unproductive situations whenever necessary. Clear, assertive communication can help express important needs, and ultimately, provide more effective care.

3. Ask Questions. Ask questions, take notes, and follow-up. Gathering information and making good decisions is the core job of an advocate. If you are not getting the answers you need, keep asking questions.  

4. Organization. To be an effective advocate, family caregivers may need to manage health care, financial, and legal affairs on behalf of their dependent loved ones. Important documents, such as the durable power of attorney and other advance directives, should be up-to-date, easily accessible, and, when possible, available electronically. 

5. Persistence. Never give up. Family caregivers are bound to hit roadblocks, but that is no reason to settle for less. Contacting care support resources, or an experienced attorney who specializes in asserting caregiver rights, is an effective way to make sure your dependent loved one can get the help they need and deserve.

We know this article may raise more questions than it answers for you. Do not wait to contact our law office to schedule a meeting with attorney Lynn Belo. She is one of only a few Florida attorneys who is also Florida Board Certified in Elder Law.