No one wants to think about their parents becoming less competent and more dependent—until the dreaded phone call with the news that Mom or Dad need your help right away. Too often, the parents are ill-prepared, and their adult children scramble to assemble a strategy for a health care system they have never dealt with while managing their own lives. However, proper planning implemented well in advance can make a huge difference in the care a parent receives—along with a corresponding reduction of stress for their children.
The issues around aging start with a candid look at your life today. Is Mom good with a checkbook or does Dad handle that? Are they good at making decisions or do they feel overwhelmed? Have they considered what type of lifestyle they would want in retirement, and how easily it could be modified if they had trouble with mobility or your memory? Do you get along with them? Do they have close friends to whom you could turn?
In situations where there is a concern that the scope of help needed might be outside the availability or competencies of family members, know that there are outside resources that can play a vital role. For example, there are firms that assist with care management, helping the spouse who is well collect medical information, make doctor appointments, help secure home health aides and sort through covered medical items (walkers and railings, for example) and covered expenses.
“Care Managers bring peace of mind to family caregivers and have the education, expertise, and experience in the aging process,” says Anne Markowitz Recht, Director of Care Management for Caring People. “We save, time, money and emotional cost when caring for an aging relative.”
Also, many bookkeepers specialize in assisting elderly people and their families with regular bill paying and itemizing medical bills that their accountant will need to know about for tax filing. "Don't be afraid to broach these topics with the aging adults in your life,” says Sandra Poarch, President of Paperwork Partners LLC. “A bookkeeper/daily money manager is your advocate and liaison working with the important people in your life: The accountant, attorney, caregiver, and financial advisor."
The caregiving section of the AARP website offers these suggestions for starting what will be a series of uncomfortable conversations with parents:
1. Refer to yourself and your thoughts. Example: “I know this is hard, and I’m going to have to do the same thing for myself one day. But it’s important for us to talk about.”
2. Make it clear that you want to understand and support your parent’s wishes. Example: “Let’s talk about what you want down the road. Let’s start with what’s important to you.”
3. Ground the talk in your love and concern. Example: “I understand all of this is really hard to talk about, and at the same time, it’s important for us to discuss. Have you thought about what you want to do if you need more help?”
4. Be straightforward about your concerns but avoid telling your parent what to do. Example: “When you’re driving, I notice your reactions aren’t as quick as they used to be. I’m worried.” Or, “It seems like it’s becoming difficult to keep up with the housework. Do you think you might want a hand with it?”
It sounds odd, but the best way to approach this planning is to treat a potential onset of physical and mental limitations as another life event to plan. The goal is to have a strategy—hopefully never needed--that provides for an aging parent’s care in a way that aligns with his or her desires while preserving their children’s resources and sanity for their own goals.