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Caregiving often comes on suddenly. Perhaps you’re visiting an elderly parent, or they’ve come to your home for a stay, and you’ve noticed they’re not doing as well as you’d thought. You might have expected some decline, because it’s been a while since you last met them face-to-face. But the visit ends up setting off some bells — and loudly.

Then, after discussing the matter with loved ones and other family members, you’ve decided that your mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa will move in — you’ve agreed to become their family caregiver. This means that you and your loved one are about to begin a grand adventure, and so will your immediate family, but the primary responsibilities of care will fall on you.

Yet, while you’re willing to take on this challenge, you might be clueless about the personal information you’ll need to access. I know I was. But you can’t be an effective caregiver and advocate without access to your loved one’s personal and private information.

Passing the baton

Parents hold on to their children’s personal information. It’s set up that way from a child’s birth. We carefully guard a baby’s birth certificate, shot records, and Social Security number in a safe place. No parent in their right mind would hand over a Social Security number to their child until they’re ready and responsible to guard it closely — hopefully, by the time they enter college. Eventually, each person will safeguard their own information.

And there’s the rub.

Your loved one has kept personal information close to the chest since early adulthood, and passing that responsibility on to you is probably a stretch for them. But make no mistake, when you picked up the caregiving baton, that job became yours, too.

Following are a few essentials you’ll need to have on hand when starting to secure a loved one’s personal information. This is not only for the sake of security, but also because as a caregiver, you must have these essentials ready in order to advocate for them.

ID card

If the person you’re providing care for no longer drives, they won’t have a driver’s license. So, they’ll need a photo ID, which is available through each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. To get one, make an appointment rather than waiting in long lines with your loved one.

Navigating the bureaucracy of a DMV is challenging for most people, more so for someone who is cognitively impaired. It might be possible to request a state ID card without visiting the DMV if a person’s expired license was issued in the state where they currently live. You can find more information about this at your state’s DMV website.

Once you’ve followed the procedure and obtained an ID card, or if your loved one already has one, kindly insist on keeping track of it for them. You might receive some pushback over this, but if your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they might forget where they left it, or worse yet, they might lose it. If you do receive pushback, remind them that you’ll always be with them when they need it, and you’ll place it in a safe place until then.

Insurance, Medicare, and Social Security

Suppose your loved one moves into your home from out of state or into an assisted living facility. If so, they’ll need to change their Medicare information to reflect a change of residence and an updated plan.

Plans differ from state to state, and there’s a grace period to update them. Medicare will cover your loved one during a trip to another state, but don’t dawdle if that trip becomes a permanent stay. You must make changes within a specific time frame. Contact Medicare for more information.

The same advice goes for insurance and Medicare cards. Caregivers need to take charge of these cards, as they’re required at doctor appointments and during hospitalizations.

Don’t forget to find their Social Security card and store it in a safe place, too.

COVID-19 vaccination card

Some restaurants and other businesses now require customers to show a COVID-19 vaccination card to enter. Traveling without this card also can be problematic, as some airlines and cruise ships require them for passengers to board. A vaccination card also may be required to travel abroad. So, keep your loved one’s card in a safe place.

Making copies

It’s a good idea to make copies of your loved one’s essential information. Make both a hard copy and a digital one. You can take a photo of the information and save it on your phone, or upload it to your computer, or both.

Consider taping a document that contains insurance and identification to the inside of a cabinet.


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