Aging in America: Caring for Mom and Dad

With more Americans living well beyond their 70s, more adult children are now left in a position where they have to be caregivers for their aging parents.

“There’s a greater likelihood today that, as a 55-year-old, you will have surviving parents, than there was say in the 1920s when both parents passed away before you reached the age of 50,” says Neal Cutler, Dean of the American Institute of Financial Gerontology. “This means that middle-agers, who are planning for their own older years, also have to think about their parents.”

Caregiving for an Aging Parent: Taking Charge

 When an aging parent needs care, it’s often one child out of several siblings who steps up to the plate to offer help. What factors play a part in determining who takes on the care of Mom or Dad?

“There is a gender bias in terms of who cares for an aging parent,” says Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, PhD, coordinator of the Gerontology Program at Northeastern Illinois University. “It’s fairly universal that we think of women as a caregiver, so their role in helping an elderly parent is not uncommon.”

Another factor in determining who will take on the role of caregiver to a parent is age. “It’s also likely it’s going to be the oldest,” says Cutler.

But there’s more to who is going to care for a parent than gender and age. Instead, siblings should consider who is the best fit. It’s selective matching, explains Hollis-Sawyer, meaning that personalities, geography – simply who lives the closest – and finances all play a role in determining who might be able to provide the best care.

If you are nominated – willingly or not – to be the caregiver for an aging parent, dealing with the situation can be a challenge. What’s the key to enlisting the help of your family to ensure the best care for your parent?

Open the lines of communication

As a family, with all of your siblings and surviving parents, talk about how you will care for Mom or Dad before the situation turns into a crisis, suggests Cutler.

“Anticipate that these are decisions and choices that are best made before a crisis happens,” says Cutler. “Sit down with everyone together, and talk about what you want to do, whether it’s a financial issue or geographical issue. The key is conversation rather than crisis management.”

Then, when it is time for a parent to reach out to their children for help later in life, it’s clear who is responsible for what, from a financial and support perspective, without creating a family conflict.

Pick an age

Have this conversation when your parent is still of a “functional” age, whether it’s your mother’s late 60s or early 70s – meaning she still has her mental and physical health on her side.

Support comes in many shapes

If one person is elected to be the primary caregiver for a parent, the siblings should think about how they can provide indirect support, whether it’s by pitching in with paperwork, finance management, or in-person help.

“A family needs to think about how to help support the sibling in charge of a parent, either with help or compensation of some sort, to help defray the cost that they are incurring,” says Steven Stern, PhD, a professor of economics at the University of Virginia, who specializes in aging and disability.

Understand the finances

“Talk to a financial planner about finances if you are caring for an aging parent on your own,” says Cutler. “You may be able to take a parent as a dependent on your tax return, if you are paying for more than half of their well-being, such as rent, nursing home care, or food.”

The financial aspects of caring for an aging parent need to be taken into consideration for the sake of your parent, but also for your own sake. The cost of long-term care, whether provided at home, in an assisted living facility, nursing home or other care facility, is extremely expensive, exceeding $10,000 per month. Long-term care costs can have a catastrophic effect on a families’ finances unless the family engages in estate, long-term care and public benefits planning in advance.

When help isn’t forthcoming

If the productive discussion before a crisis strikes doesn’t happen, and one child is left in charge with no support from his or her siblings, the key is still communication.

This situation happens a lot,” says Hollis-Sawyer. “When it does, the caregiver has to look at their options, and ask themselves questions like, ‘Would I benefit by attempting to communicate my needs to others?'”

Reaching out to your siblings or other family members for support is a better option than trying to take on the situation entirely on your own.

“If you do reach out, and you don’t get the help you need internally from your family, then it’s time to look elsewhere,” says Hollis-Sawyer. Turn to your community for support. Look into respite-care programs, or caregiver support programs. Consult with an elder law attorney, and a geriatric care manager.

Source: WebMD