Too often life-changing decisions are made when a crisis occurs or if it becomes apparent that a senior needs assistance. Usually the family bears the entire responsibility for caring for the senior, either in the senior’s home or in the home of a family member.

There most likely have been no discussions or previous planning for such an event. There should be realistic considerations made before making such a change. A certainty is that life as a family caregiver definitely will be different.

How does one know if a senior needs help or is not able to live alone? Even if the senior is still capable of carrying out all the functions of daily living, there are signs that help is needed.

Some signs to be aware of include weight loss, poor personal hygiene, dirty bathroom or kitchen, abundant clutter, spoiled food in the fridge, unopened or unpaid bills, not managing medications or ordering refills, dents on the car or forgetfulness.

Before moving in together, other ramifications need to be discussed. What are the needs of the senior? Could she remain in her own home with assistance? Is the home “elder friendly”?

Has a safety check been done for lighting, stairs, rugs, access to bathroom and tub or shower and number of bedrooms? Does the home require any modifications?

If there are children in the home, will they have to “give up” their room? Have other family members, including children, agreed to share the living space and responsibilities? Are you prepared for the physical and emotional stress that is associated with caregiving?

Have you evaluated the financial cost? According to a study done by Home Instead Inc. in 2010, out-of-pocket expenses are estimated to be between $5,000 to $8,000 per year, depending on the needs of the senior. Will siblings help with the care either in person or financially? Will you be able to continue working?

The loss of independence is difficult for anyone and reactions or behavior change is to be expected. Communication is key! It is important to encourage seniors to continue to do as much for themselves as they can.

Active listening and open and honest communication, of both positive and negative feelings by everyone involved, are necessary in handling and resolving conflicts successfully.

For most, family caregiving is the ultimate gift: a labor of love, rooted in respect for family. It provides opportunities for close personal relationships, intergenerational bonding and hearing the stories about family heritage and traditions.

It is also less expensive than care communities, however the cost in physical and emotional stress can be high.

Rachel Carson is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care franchise serving The Lowcountry since 1997.