1. Have the Family Conversation
No one wants to think about what might happen to their elderly parent. But if you genuinely want to prepare for the future needs of your parent, then the family should be on the same page moving forward. Because this topic can easily get pushed down the road or avoided entirely, we encourage you to set up a planned family conversation. This touchy subject isn’t a topic to bring up during a holiday meal when everyone is distracted. If the whole family cannot be present in person, arrange an online conference call, so everyone is included.
The goal of this conversation is to talk about the care needs and wishes of your parent as they get older. It doesn’t need to be confrontational, but an open discussion with their best interest at heart. Where would they like to live if they could no longer live in their home alone? 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 them be more comfortable or confident on their own?
Make sure your parent and siblings are prepared for this conversation and consider their feelings on the subject before they attend. Also, you should anticipate your family dynamics and how that may contribute to or hinder this meeting. Try to head off any conflicts when possible, to make the conversation productive and positive.
2. Research Aging Care and Senior Housing Options
Your parent may be very spry and independent today, but their situation can change. There are a variety of senior care options to fit the needs of your loved one. Before you start your search, here are some definitions to help your family identify the care options that are available and how these options differ.
Assisted living is an excellent option if your parent can no longer live independently but may not need constant medical care. Your parent can live in their own apartment but share meals and scheduled activities with other residents. Assisted living community services often include transportation, housekeeping, laundry, medication management, and–as needed–assistance with the activities of daily living (referred to commonly as ADLs), such as bathing, grooming, and dressing.
Memory care is a type of assisted living for seniors who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Your parent will enjoy all the amenities of an assisted living community but with specially trained staff who can manage the unique changes in behavior 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.
In-home care is a flexible option if your parent would like to stay in their home. Your family can hire in-home personal care that comes once a week to help them bathe; daily to help them dress, prepare meals, and keep your parent 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.
You or a family member may choose to share your home with your loved one as their primary caregiver. Keep in mind that although this can be rewarding and you have good intentions, when your parent is under your care, you will experience a role reversal. Not everyone has the emotional, physical, and financial strength to do this.
3. Understand Your Parent’s Needs
As you think about moving your parent into long-term care, it’s important to assess what they need in such an environment. Where will they be most comfortable and happy? Identifying what they value most in a new home will help make the transition easier for your family.
Care Needs Across Their Lifespan
While it’s not possible to predict the type of care your parent will require as they age, it’s a good idea to plan for the most extreme circumstances. Will the assisted living community you are considering care for your parent if their dementia deepens, or they develop mobility issues? Will the community be able to provide services to your parent to live there through the end of their life? It can be disruptive to have to move from one assisted living community to another or into a memory care community to obtain the proper level of care. Once you have moved your parent, the goal is for them to be happy in their new home as long as possible.
If your parents are deeply involved in their culture, as lifelong practitioners of a certain religion or they began their lives in another country, they may want to keep that connection in their new home. Ensuring the assisted living or memory care communities you are looking at can foster socialization between people of the same background, as well as those of diverse backgrounds, is important. It’s also vital to make sure the staff is culturally sensitive. Someone telling your parent that their religious dietary requirements can’t be met or having no one around who speaks their native language can be upsetting. Most assisted living communities will be happy to tell you what their individual culture is like, and whether they cater to members of a particular religious or ethnic group in their programming. While this may not be the first consideration you have, it is important to help your parents keep their sense of identity and belonging.
What Your Parent Truly Wants
All other things being equal, a decision about an assisted living community comes down to personal preference. If your parent has fallen in love with a community that isn’t quite what you imagined but meets all the requirements, this is likely the one where they will be happiest. If they are active, a pool may influence their choice or if they are a movie buff, then a theater could be a huge draw. Are they a foodie? The variety and types of cuisine served will bring them immense joy. Before you even begin your search, take your parent’s preferences, interests, and passions into account. Work together to find a place they will be happy to call home for years to come.
4. Consider Your Needs and Abilities
Being Your Parent’s Caregiver
If your parent can no longer live on their own, you have the choice of caring for them yourself. Although caring for your parent can be rewarding, there are limitations that you need to consider before you commit to a life change like this. The most important consideration is that care should be consistent, and you need to be there for them. If you are working outside the home or have other family commitments, then this may not be an ideal solution.
Being their primary caregiver is a significant life change, so you need to consider the quality of life for both yourself and your parent. Can you live together? Will living together strain your relationship? How well do you get along? It’s best to be realistic before committing to this type of care.
Also, you need to consider the logistics of full-time caregiving. For example, you may want to consider things such as:
- Do you have enough space in your home?
- Is it safe for your parent to walk around or will they trip on children’s toys?
- 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 parent’s best interest in mind if you are considering this option. Don’t let guilt guide this decision.
Living Close to Your Parents
If you decide to move your parent closer to where you live, you need to remember that they are leaving their network of friends and connections. Most caregivers dramatically underestimate how difficult and lonely it can be to adjust to a new town or neighborhood. Consider how you can help your parent build a social network if they move closer to you. Do they drive, or can they take public transportation? Is there a senior center nearby? Or would it be better for them to move to an assisted living community where they could meet other residents and take part in activities? There are good reasons to move your parent closer to you as they age. Being close by in case of emergency or to help is invaluable. We suggest that you make plans to smoothly transition your parent to their new home and find ways to keep them social, engaged, and happy.
The discussion of location can get a little more complicated when you are one of two or more siblings who are spread across the city, state, or country. In this case, you may wish to assess with your siblings just how much time and energy each of you are realistically able to devote to your parent. Of course, you should also consult your parent. They may have preferences in weather or even regional characteristics, which may mean your parent would rather live nearest their child inhabiting the warmest climate.
5. Financial Planning Needs
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. Review your parent’s net worth. Calculate their retirement savings, debt, Social Security, pensions, 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? Also, examine if you have any concerns about their ability to manage their money. Do you need to start to monitor their spending and look for unpaid bills? Is it time to step in and manage their money?
This may be a good opportunity to determine who will be given power of attorney and financial oversight of your parent’s accounts. A power of attorney will authorize a trusted person to manage their finances in the event they can no longer. Working with an eldercare attorney, your parent can specify how they want their finances handled. If your parent suddenly falls ill, a power of attorney can take over their finances, so bills don’t fall behind, and their medical bills are paid.
6. Complete Legal and Medical Planning
Prepare ahead of an emergency. Gather a master folder with your parent that includes all important documentation in one secured place. As the paperwork is gathered, you can also assess if any documents are missing. This master folder should consist of 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 parent shares this location with the family to access when needed.
Does your parent have a will, and have they determined an executor for their will? A will helps them to clearly outline their intentions and can avoid later contention in the family. They should meet with an attorney to discuss their assets and their wishes to split up their estate. If your parent has specific ideas about their final farewell, creating an outline can be greatly beneficial for emotional family members to follow. They can even pre-pay for some funeral arrangements.
We also suggest discussing a living will with your parent if they have not taken this crucial step. A living will (also known as an advanced directive) is a legal expression of what treatment a person would want in a future situation. This important document will help your family clearly understand their medical wishes in the event your parent can no longer communicate. This information may include resuscitation guidelines, whether they want dialysis, blood transfusions, palliative care, and when “extraordinary measures” should be taken. Like a power of attorney for financial decisions, medical power of attorney can make medical decisions on your parents’ behalf for end-of-life care. It’s best to consult with an eldercare attorney for advice on how to handle these details.
7. Provide Your Family (and Yourself) with Emotional Support
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, or moving out of a family home, or they may be 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 anxiety 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 facing 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 mix of emotions can cause families stress and even end in arguments and resentment. The dynamics of your family (for better or for worse) will be strained at times, so forgive quickly. Always keep the best quality of life for your parents in mind.
Families often ignore these topics 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.
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