How prepared are you to help your parents transition into their golden years?
As the oldest Baby Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—begin turning 80, there will be an even more pronounced need for eldercare support and services. Those tasked with helping to navigate and manage this life transition (ideally in partnership with those needing the care) are most often the children.
If you haven’t broached this subject with your parents yet, avoid waiting until red flags begin appearing. Here are some ways to stay thoughtfully prepared and aware of the options.
ASSESSING THEIR NEEDS
It can be a delicate topic, but it’s valuable to start the conversation early. Simple questions like “How can I help?” and “What are your biggest daily struggles?” can begin shedding light on what options might benefit them best, and lead to more concrete dialogue around the subject. The key is to have your parents involved in the process early, rather than telling them what you think the solution is.
If you live nearby, observing your aging loved one’s behavior can be more valuable than what they tell you. How do they move about in their home? Are bills being paid on time or are they stacking up? How are basic chores and yardwork handled? Is medication being taken? What about their basic hygiene? If you don’t live nearby, enlist the eyes and ears of relatives or trusted neighbors who do to assess potential health, mobility, and safety concerns.
As Ardeshir Hashmi, M.D., section chief of the Center for Geriatric Medicine at Cleveland Clinic told AARP: “The goal is to pick up clues early, before they start to impact day-to-day life in a significant way, so you can do something about them.”
ASSESSING YOUR NEEDS
Just as important: Don’t neglect your own needs. Be realistic when you assess how capable and available you might be to support what is needed—physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. It’s OK if you’re not the best person to provide all the necessary care. In many cases, it’s in everyone’s best interest to shift some or all of the care to professionals who are specifically trained.
LEANING ON THE PROFESSIONALS
Seeking the expert guidance of family doctors (or geriatric doctors) and elder law attorneys can help alleviate the stress of deciding on the best options for your aging loved one. While each situation is unique, having a thoughtful and proactive conversation with experts, alongside your parents, can be helpful, as aging parents may be more agreeable to advice from professionals, versus suggestions from their children.
Depending on the scope of help needed, you might also consider hiring a geriatric care manager. They serve as consultants to guide you through complex senior-care issues and local services. Their job is to make sure that your older loved one is well cared for—while also saving you time and stress.
ASSESSING THE FINANCES
One of the biggest stresses that comes with eldercareis finances. It’s no secret that it can be expensive. Proactively bringing in a financial advisor or elder law attorney to understand the finances can help to alleviate some of this stress, especially if you can do it in advance of any dramatic health shifts that necessitate immediate action. Consider it an investment that will help you make the wiser, more responsible choices—and gives your parents time to weigh options, too.
OPTIONS FOR CARE
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for aging loving ones. Early and frequent discussions on what your parents need to be healthy, safe, and happy may lead to one of the options below.
- Inviting Your Parents to Live with You
If you have the physical space and the mental-emotional bandwidth, bringing your aging parents under your roof may be the solution. The multigenerational living arrangement could benefit everyone involved by strengthening family bonds in mutually supportive roles, while also providing an environment where you can keep better tabs on your parents as they progress in age.
Sometimes it’s as simple as trading that larger house for something smaller and more manageable. Home ownership, and all the maintenance and upkeep that comes with it, can become a physical annoyance for those advancing in age. If they are still physically and mentally fit, and are simply seeking an easier, day-to-day lifestyle, downsizing into a smaller rental property (for instance, a place where they aren’t responsible for routine yardwork) might be the ideal solution.
- Independent Living Communities
These are communities for independent, active seniors who wish to live in a community with their peers, typically in resort-like properties, without the hassle and expense of maintaining a home. One of the most valuable aspects of this option is the community and camaraderie, which can help to offset loneliness, a common condition among the elderly.
- In-home Caregiving
For parents who are adamant about aging in place (a.k.a. not wanting to leave their home), then a home health-care provider might be worth considering. This type of caregiving comes in many varieties, from certified nursing assistants who can help with medical needs, to home care aides who can assist with nonmedical tasks, such as preparing meals and doing light housekeeping. It could be time to hire in-home help if you’re noticing changes in personal appearance and household cleanliness, or there have been frequent falls and forgetfulness, as these are typically signs of a shift in physical or mental well-being.
- Assisted Living Communities
For seniors who desire a balance of independence alongside 24-hour support but don’t require skilled nursing or specialized dementia care, assisted living communities are a popular option. Consider touring a few communities with your parents or ask friends and relatives who currently reside in these communities to share their experience.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)
A CCRC is also known as a “life plan community.” They provide a continuum of care as the resident ages, so your loved one can enter while they are still independent and enjoy all the high-end amenities typically offered at these communities, knowing that they will be cared for as they progress in age and the need for support increases. The biggest benefit is that they provide a wide range of care, services, and activities in one setting, while offering residents a sense of stability and familiarity as their abilities or health conditions change. The biggest caveat is that CCRCs tend to be very expensive.
- Memory Care Communities
Memory care communities are designed to meet the needs of people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. They have specially trained caregivers to help keep residents safe around the clock. If a parent of yours has been diagnosed accordingly, or exhibits qualities such as delusions, agitation, confusion, or disorientation that could put them—or you and your loved ones—at risk, then a memory care community may be the safest place for them.
- Long-term Care Facilities
Better known as “nursing homes,” these facilities have 24-hour, skilled medical care that includes rehabilitation and pain management specialists. If a parent of yours has a serious, ongoing health condition or disability, then this is an option to consider, with input from doctors and family members.
The options can seem overwhelming, but there are organizations specifically designed to educate and provide guidance. You needn’t do it alone. The resources highlighted below can provide a foundation for building your working knowledge of eldercareconsiderations, as well as educate your parents.
AARP: Advocacy organization for seniors that offers resources for family caregivers.
Adult Children of Aging Parents: Information, resources, support, and community for adult children as they care for aging parents and for themselves.
National Alliance for Caregiving: Advocacy group that offers caregivers tip sheets, publications, and podcasts on topics relevant to elder care.
National Council on Aging: Advocacy organization that helps older Americans and caregivers. Its BenefitsCheckUp tool makes it easier for older adults and people with disabilities to find benefits programs and check their eligibility.
Family Caregiver Alliance: Organization that provides services to family caregivers of adults with physical and cognitive impairments, such as Parkinson’s, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and other types of dementia.
Administration on Aging: Agency that administers national programs and services for seniors, including free health insurance counseling, help with long-term care planning, and legal assistance.
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging: Site that offers information about eldercareand area-specific referrals to aging-related programs and services.