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Plan Now for Care of Aging Parents

Taking care of aging parents can be difficult and time-consuming - daily visits, weekly doctor’s appointments, medical bills and insurance issues.  In some respects, it may feel like you have another full-time job!  But, because you love your parents and feel a responsibility to make sure they are well-cared for, you take on this responsibility willingly. However, it is important you understand the full magnitude of this responsibility prior to taking the steps necessary to care for them full-time. 

In this module, we’ll provide you with the information you need to make the difficult decisions necessary for your parents’ well-being. 

Open the Lines of Communication

The first thing you must do is have some difficult conversations with your parents – and these are the ones that really no one wants to have.  Before your parents reach the stage where extra help is needed, have a family meeting to discuss crucial matters, such as power of attorney, a living will, healthcare proxy, etc. Have someone take notes and be sure you are all in agreement about your parents’ care. While it may be upsetting to watch your parents age, it will be better in the long-run if issues are ironed out before there is any sort of crisis. 

When to Intervene

Your parents have lived independently their entire lives, and the last thing you want to do is step on their toes. Ask yourself these questions as you try to decide how much assistance your aging parents really need:

  • Are they able to take care of themselves? Are they able to do basic daily things, such as brushing their teeth, get dressed, take their vitamins and medication, etc.?  You should also consider the condition of their home – inside and out.  Is the yard overgrown?  Do the lightbulbs need to be replaced?  If your parents are not completing these tasks, it may mean they are no longer able to do so, or they may be suffering from symptoms of depression, dementia, or other ailments that require closer attention.
  • Are they experiencing memory loss? Everyone forgets things from time to time, but if your parents are forgetting common words, or getting lost in familiar areas, it may be time to speak to a medical professional about the possibility of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Encourage them to get tested as soon as possible.
  • Have they lost a significant amount of weight without trying? They may not be eating well, or have difficulty cooking for themselves.  It may also be the result of depression or a general loss of appetite. 
  • Are they still social and active? Be sure your parents remain active. Are they doing some sort of activity, such as taking walks, going to book club, attending local community events, etc.  If they never leave their home, this could be a sign of depression and they may need further medical attention.
  • Are they staying safe? Whether at home or on the road, your parents’ safety must be a priority.  Are they still able to get up and down stairs without the risk of falling?  Can they get in and out of the shower easily?  Do they get confused when they drive or are unable to handle the pressure? Safety concerns are often the number one reason children intervene in their parents’ lives.

It is important that you discuss your concerns not only with your parents, but with other family members (e.g., siblings).  Be sure to counsel with each other and work together to find the best solution for your parents.

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Is a Nursing Home the Right Decision?

After you determine your parents have reached the point where they need some extra assistance, you might find yourself torn between either checking your parents into an elderly care facility or taking on the responsibility yourself.  Take a look at some of the pros and cons of using a nursing home:

Pros

  • 24/7 care. In a nursing home, the staff is trained to take care of your parents’ every need around the clock. You don’t need to worry about scheduling care for the times when you cannot be at home.
  • Built-in structure. Structure helps everyone, but especially elderly folks who struggle with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Meals and activities are offered at the same times every day, which makes them more difficult to forget. Creating this type of structure may be more difficult to do in your own home because you will be balancing your parents’ needs with those of your own family (and your own needs as well).   
  • Social activities. Nursing homes encourage residents to participate in many social activities and offer ways for them to form new friendships and be a part of their own community. 

Cons

  • Cost. A big reason why many families are unable to consider nursing home facilities is the fact that is may cost thousands of dollars a year. Unless you pitch in together as a family, this may almost be too much for one person or family to absorb.
  • Lack of freedom. Many elderly people oppose the idea of moving into a nursing home because they feel like their independence will be gone.  They have lived independent lives and don’t want that freedom taken away. While the structure of a nursing home may be good for them, your parents may miss going about their days, doing things when they want to do them.
  • Lack of control. Another big reason why children hesitate to put their parents into a nursing home is the lack of control they would have over their parents’ well-being.  Even though a nursing home could seem fantastic on the outside, there are many horror stories people have told about treatment in these facilities, and that risk is one that many are not willing to take.
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Coping with Financial Stress

Whether you decide to put your parents into a nursing home, or take care of them yourself, the cost of caring for aging parents will more than likely put a strain on your finances. If you are taking care of your aging parents in your own home, you have to now feed them, clothe them and drive them to appointments – much like they are another child you are caring for in your home.  Here are some tips to help you cope with the financial stress of taking care of your parents:

  • Speak to a financial advisor. If you are paying for more than half of your parents’ expenses, you may be able to claim them as a dependent on your taxes.
  • Consider quitting your job to provide care for a parent. Because it is such a time-consuming task, many adults take time off from work in order to provide care for their parents. However, you must only do this if you have the ability to manage your living expenses without that income.  In many instances, people have chosen to take an extended leave from their jobs so they don’t lose the valuable benefits needed in their families.  Check with your company to see if they have a family leave program that would allow you to keep your benefits if you must leave work.
  • Utilize your parents’ resources if available. Talk to your parents about their finances to determine what you will need to cover above and beyond what they have saved, or what they may be able to sell (that they no longer use). Additionally, be aware of your parents’ major financial decisions, as many elderly people are targeted by financial scams.
  • Understand Medicare and Medicaid. If your parents qualify, these programs can save them (and you) a lot of money. Take time to research the differences between Medicare and Medicaid in order to choose the program that will best fit your parents’ needs.

Avoid Burnout

It can be easy to get burned out when you are providing constant care and financial assistance to your loved one. Here are some ways to avoid getting burned out, so you can continue to provide the best care possible for your parents: 

  • Take time for yourself. Even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, take time to read a book, do some yoga or relax with a cup of coffee. Do something each day that makes you happy in order to de-stress.
  • Stay organized. It’s easy to feel like things are out of control when you don’t have a plan.  Map out your day in whatever way works best.  Then, keep track of what you have to do and what you’ve done.  Delegate when you can. 
  • Create a routine and stick to it. Not only does this prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, it also helps your parents immensely. If you need to, set timers or install apps that send texts to remind you about appointments or medication dosages.
  • Get some sleep. Sleeping can be tough when you’re providing 24/7 assistance to an aging parent; however, it’s vital if you are going to be able to perform at your best. If you can’t sleep at night because of a medicine schedule or other issue, try to sleep in the day whenever you can.  Your lack of sleep will diminish your health, which will not help your parent. 
  • Join a support group. Whether in-person or online, you should try to find a support group where you can share successes and struggles with others going through your same situation.
  • Look into temporary care. A nursing assistant may be a major help if you need to take a night off, or have some other commitment that needs your attention. Some insurance companies cover the cost of home health aides.
  • Get an emergency alert device. If you need time away from home, but can’t afford temporary care, an emergency alert device may be just the thing you need for peace of mind. With this type of device, if something does happen while you are out and about, your parent can quickly call for emergency assistance on his or her own.
  • Enlist the help of family members. While you may be the designated caretaker, your siblings can also support your aging parents as well. Communicate your needs to family members, and see if they can help by filling out paperwork, chipping in financially, or visiting and helping in person.  Don’t try to do it all!
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Benefits of Providing Care

While it may be difficult at times, you should always try to focus on the positive side of caring for your parents.  Focus on the following: 

  • Caring for your parents can be a bonding experience, and will add depth to your relationship that may not have been there before. 
  • You’ll learn more about yourself and your parents as you go through this process.
  • Experts have found that an aging person’s quality of life is significantly higher when he/she is cared for by one of his/her children. 
  • Being around children and grandchildren as often as possible helps prevent memory loss.

Conclusion

The reality is that it’s incredibly difficult to uproot your parents’ lives and start making decisions for them when they have lived independently and made their own decisions for years. It is also difficult to make sacrifices in your life to provide care for them; however, it’s important to keep everything in perspective. These are your parents’ last years on Earth, and it is up to you to make sure they are comfortable and safe – they would certainly do the same for you. Try to learn from your parents’ journey, as the circle of life will come around in its own due time, and soon it will be your children taking care of you. Plan for retirement. Leave money for your children to take care of you. If you can save extra so your children don’t have to bear the financial burden of caring for aging parents, then it helps everyone.

More Resources

There are a variety of online resources to explore if you’d like more information on caring for aging parents. Check out the following:

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