Six Tips to Prepare for Your Aging Parents’ Future
Your parents’ health and safety should never be an afterthought. And your best decisions are rarely made under the pressure of an emergency. How do you get everyone in your family to agree if you have to make a major life decision for your parents? Although no family wants to face the declining health of their aging parents, families should be prepared. Here are a few ways to plan for your parents’ futures and the hard decisions you may need to make as a family.
1. Have “THE” Family Meeting with Your Parents.
No one wants to think about what might happen to your older parents. But if you truly want to prepare for the future needs of your parents, then everyone needs to be on the same page moving forward. Because this can be a topic that is easier to push down the road and avoid, it is best if you set up a planned meeting. This isn’t a topic to bring up casually around the dinner table at Thanksgiving when holiday stress is high. If the whole family can’t be physically present, arrange a call on Skype so everyone is included.
The goal of this conversation is to talk about the care needs and wishes of your parents as they get older. Where would they like to live if they could no longer live on their own? How do they intend to pay for their care? How do they feel about their current living situation? Is there anything the family can do now to help? Make sure your parents and siblings are prepared for this meeting and consider their own feelings on the subject before they get there. Also, you should consider your family dynamics and how that can contribute or hinder this meeting. Try to anticipate and head off any conflicts when possible, to make the conversation productive and positive.
2. Assessing the Needs of Your Parent
If you and your family are meeting for a talk about their health and living situation, chances are you already have concerns. Evaluate your motivation to discuss this topic. Have they fallen? Is their vision failing? Are they losing weight? Are they paying their bills? Should they still be driving? You will need to assess whether they are safe living on their own or if they need assistance now.
Often your parents may have very strong feelings about where and how they want to live. Perhaps they have a plan in place that they can share with you and your siblings. Listen to what they say and try to honor their wishes if it is physically and financially possible. Try to always offer choices and get them involved in the decisions you make. Your parent may not be open to discussing this or might become defensive. This could be the first of many discussions and compromises.
3. Weighing Senior Housing Options
Your parents may be very spry and independent today, but their situation can quickly change. There are a variety of senior living options to fit the needs of your loved one.
Assisted Living. This is an excellent option if your mom is facing health challenges and can no longer live independently, but may not need constant medical care. She can live in her own private apartment but share meals and scheduled activities with other residents. Assisted living services often include transportation, housekeeping, laundry, medication assistance, and assistance with the activities of daily living, such as dressing and bathing.
Memory Care. This type of assisted living is for seniors who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementias. Your parent will enjoy all the amenities of an assisted living community but with specially trained staff who can manage the unique changes that come with memory loss. For the safety of your loved one, these communities are secured because residents experiencing memory loss may want to wander and can easily get lost.
Nursing Home. A nursing home is best suited if your dad needs a high level of medical care. Or this can be a good choice if he has a complex medical condition. Your dad would receive around-the-clock care from licensed nurses.
In-Home Care. This is a flexible option if your parents would like to stay in their home. Your family can hire in-home personal care that comes once a week to bathe; daily to dress, prepare meals, and keep them company; or 24-hour care if they need constant help and supervision. We suggest that you work with a reputable company and carefully screen references.
Your Home. You or a family member may choose to share your home with your mom and be her primary caregiver. Keep in mind that although this can be rewarding and you have good intentions, when your parent is under your care this can be a huge role reversal. Not everyone has the emotional, physical, and financial strength to do this.
You also need to consider the comfort of the house and the care that needs to be consistent. Do you have enough space? Is it safe for her to walk around or will she trip on children’s toys? Do you have the time to meet her needs or are you working outside of the home? Are there stairs to manage? Will you need to invest money and time into remodeling the house or bathroom? Can you realistically care for medical concerns and personal needs at home? Keep your mom’s best interest in mind if you are considering this option. Don’t let guilt guide this decision.
4. Financial Resources
Review your parent’s net worth. Calculate their retirement savings, debt, Social Security, pensions, and assets, and other income. Based on their current monthly living expenses, how long would the money last? Do they have additional funds or long-term care insurance to cover care costs? And what debt do they need to pay off, like their house, car, or credit cards?
This is also a good opportunity to determine who will have power of attorney and financial oversight of your parent’s accounts. Should you or a family member be added to their bank or investments accounts? Do you need to start to monitor their spending and look for unpaid bills? Who should have power of attorney? Many of us are uncomfortable talking about money. But if you address these issues now, when there is no emergency, you will make better decisions.
5. Legal and Medical Planning
If an emergency occurs, having a master folder of all important documents in one place can be vital. As the paperwork is gathered, you can also assess if any documents are missing. This folder should include everything from marriage certificates to financial assets information to military records and their life insurance policy in a fireproof locked box or a safe deposit box. Make sure your parents share this location with the family to access when needed.
Also, do your parents have a will and have they determined an executor for their will? To avoid fighting among the family a will can clearly outline their intentions. They should meet with an attorney to discuss their assets and their wishes to split up their estate. If your parents have specific ideas about their final farewell, creating an outline can be very beneficial for emotional family members to follow. They can even pre-pay for some arrangements.
Most importantly, as your parents age, you will want to understand clearly their medical wishes if they can no longer speak for themselves. Your parents should prepare an Advanced Health Care Directive (also known as a living will). This information included will range from resuscitation guidelines to whether or not they want dialysis or blood transfusions. It also designates a health care agent (medical power of attorney) who can make medical decisions on your parents’ behalf if they are unable.
6. The Emotional Toll a Transition Takes
Change is hard for anyone. If you address concerns head-on while things are good, preparing for the worst (which may never happen) will empower the family with an action plan. Don’t allow your feelings to get in the way of progress, but be sensitive because this transition can take a toll on everyone.
For your parents.
Facing this new phase of life can be scary for aging parents. They will be experiencing feelings of loss and uncertainty at a time in their life where change is complicated. They may be grieving the loss of a spouse, the loss of their independence, moving out of a family home, or afraid of the changes that will come. Don’t belittle their concerns, brush off their fears, or look the other way when their behavior changes. Their feelings of sadness, loss, and fear can manifest in flashes of anger or acts of stubbornness and even depression. Be sensitive to the emotional toll that this transition can have on your parents. Be patient and supportive. Listen (really listen) to their concerns.
For you and your siblings.
You and your family are being faced with the mortality of your parents. You may be grieving their loss of independence too. Many adult children will unfairly suffer feelings of guilt and anxiety about moving their parent into long-term care. This can cause families stress and even end in arguments. The dynamics of your family (for better or for worse) will be strained at times, so forgive quickly. Always keep the best interests of your parents in mind.
These topics are often ignored among families because no one wants to face the future. But this discussion, although sometimes painful and uncomfortable, is important for families to have. If you take the time to organize their estate and understand your parents’ wishes for their future, this preparation will relieve a lot of stress for the entire family.