Caring for aging parents is an increasingly common responsibility, even for those who still have young children at home. Nearly ten million adult children (over age 50) are currently taking care of an aging parent, according to Metlife. For many people, it’s an important concern, but planning for it can make things easier once the need arises. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to assist both the elderly and their caregivers.
The first step is to determine what your parents want their life to look like and what resources (such as Medicare) are available to them. One way elderly parents can make their wishes known is to schedule a family meeting with their adult children. Elders should sign legal documents, such as a power of attorney and an advance health care directive, while they are still in good physical and mental health. Make sure you, or their designated agent, know where to find important documents, including information about Medicare providers, in case they become incapacitated.
Diminished mental capacity can become an issue before physical health declines. This is of particular concern with respect to financial literacy. An 80-year-old in good physical condition may only require a daily money manager or bill-paying service, but as time goes on, s/he may benefit from an elder care companion, or home care service. Most counties have senior centers that offer educational and social opportunities. If adult children are nearby, they may be available to help as well.
Some seniors choose to live in a dedicated community that provides similar enrichment programs. This could be either a senior living community or a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), which provides higher levels of care as the elder requires it, in a residential setting. These types of living arrangements often have different home styles to choose from to suit the budget and are becoming more and more popular. AARP has a good guide for these options.
Once elders are no longer able to care for themselves, due to either physical or cognitive limitations, if they are not in a CCRC, they may not be able to remain in their home. The cost of 24-hour care could be prohibitive compared with an assisted living facility. Although this is not a comfortable conversation to have, it’s best to do so while your loved one is still able to participate in the decision-making.
If the plan is for one or more of the adult children to provide care, it’s essential to understand the financial impact on the caregivers. In terms of wages, women give up $324,000 on average and men $283,000 per year to look after their parents full time. If this will have a significant impact on the adult child’s ability to retire, the plan should be reconsidered.
There are a number of resources that the caregiver can tap into for help: local senior centers, AARP, and other elder care organizations. Caregivers must be careful to safeguard their own health and to seek emotional and physical support when needed. Relatives, including siblings and adult grandchildren, can help lighten the load on the primary caregiver by providing rest breaks or monetary assistance, where applicable. The support network should also help recognize when the elder’s needs are too great for a sole caregiver and other arrangements need to be made.
Caring for and supporting elderly parents can be personally rewarding for adult children and can enable the elderly to live independently for as long as possible. Planning ahead and getting documents in place can help ease the transition for parents and children alike.