Many of you may find yourself in the same situation I have been in for 15 years, working through how to care for your aging parents or other relatives in a way that honors them, gives them as much independence as possible while keeping them safe, doesn’t harm your mental or physical health and doesn’t bankrupt everyone. That’s a tall order!
I’d like to share a few tips that helped me navigate these turbulent waters:
1. START THE CONVERSATION NOW
Unfortunately, people hesitate to talk about old age or end-of-life planning. Having these sensitive discussions sooner rather than later can make it easier for your family member to live independently as long as possible. In my family, we have conversations around these topics. How could I have known what financial resources were available or my parents’ wishes if we had not discussed these matters in advance? My children know my wishes, what resources are available and where all my information is. These conversations provide a strong foundation upon which to make hard decisions.
2. IDENTIFY CURRENT NEEDS
How is your loved one coping with day-to-day activities? Is she still driving? Take the time to go for a ride to see how she’s doing. Can she still clean her home, pay bills on time or take care of her personal needs? Does the home need modifications or updates for safety?
Don’t just assume things are fine. Go at unexpected times and pay attention to what is not being said. Ask your loved one to show you how she gets up the steps and into or out of the tub or shower. Do you know where all her papers are stored, her computer or online passwords and who her financial advisor, banker and insurance agent are? Ask your loved one how you can help while allowing her to make as many choices for herself as possible.
3. IDENTIFY FINANCIAL RESOURCES
Care is expensive. A recent study I read lists the monthly cost of an assisted-living facility at $4,500, a homemaker or home health aide around $5,000 and a semi-private nursing home around $7,900. Another study tells us that a healthy couple retiring at age 65 can expect health care costs upwards of $360,000 during their retirement years, and the average lifetime cost of care for an individual living with dementia is $350,174. These numbers continue to increase.
Do you or your family member have money or other resources sufficient to meet future financial obligations? How long could these assets reasonably be expected to last should a health emergency or long-term care need arise? Keep in mind government assistance is not available until your other assets are severely depleted, and this includes all assets — not just cash.
4: BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR OWN RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS
Does your family member expect you to provide for their personal care physically or financially? Does your budget have enough room to take on these extra expenses? Is there enough margin in your life to take on the additional responsibilities of being a primary caregiver?
Be clear about this in discussions with your family member and everyone else who would look to you. Don’t allow others to assume you will take over the additional expenses or primary care needs of your family member if that individual moves in with you. Set boundaries and expectations. You cannot care for your family member if you don’t first care for yourself. These are difficult but necessary conversations.
5: RESEARCH OPTIONS
Armed with the knowledge of your loved one’s preferences, resources and current needs, do some research. Make a list of your questions, and determine which preferences are negotiable and which are not. Find out what program or options are available in your unique situation. If a care facility is an option, tour the facility and ask lots of questions. Keep in mind that should your family member need to move to a care facility, many of them have waitlists.
The transition from autonomy to dependance is not easy. You can make it easier by choosing to ask your family member how she would like you to help. Even if you can’t adhere to all your loved one’s wishes, you still can respond in ways that recognize and honor that individual. Try to “walk a mile in their shoes,” as the old saying goes.
7: ASK FOR HELP
Although you may feel alone, you are not by yourself in this process unless you choose to be. If you are like me, it is not easy to ask for help and then actually accept it. Don’t force yourself to walk through this alone. If you allow yourself to ask for help, you may find there are more resources and people willing to pitch in than you think.
As I mentioned before, I’m 15 years into the process of caring for both my parents, and now my in-laws. I’m here to be a sounding board and provide a non-biased, non-emotional opinion. If you have any questions or need advice, please reach out.