Caring for Your Aging Parents

As our parents age, often a role reversal takes place—the child ends up taking care of the parent. Without proper planning, it can be overwhelming. But the more prepared you are to handle the issues that may come along as your parents age, the better able you’ll be to deal with them.

Be Sure to Start Early
The key is to start the discussions and planning with your parents early, before an emergency arises. By learning your parents’ wishes—including those about their health and their finances—you’ll be equipped to handle whatever the future may bring.  

Recognize Some Simple Facts
Most people are uncomfortable raising these issues with their parents. Most parents are equally uncomfortable having these discussions with their children. But the consequences of not planning for the future can be devastating—for both you and your parents.

How to Begin the Conversation
Choose the right time to tackle this sensitive issue with your parents. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Pick a quiet time to have your first discussion—a birthday or holiday celebration is, for most, probably not the right time.
  • Ideally, these conversations should include the whole family—you, your parents, your siblings, and perhaps even a neutral third party to facilitate the process.
  • To break the ice, you may want to discuss the fact that you are looking to help them over the long term and, if you’ve noticed some changes in their health, let them know you’re just worried about their well-being.
  • Don’t try to tackle all issues at once. An initial conversation where everyone agrees that the planning needs to begin may be ideal. Then, you can tackle the issues that need to be addressed in subsequent discussions.

Important Topics to Discuss with Your Parents

Health/Lifestyle Issues

  • Do they have adequate insurance coverage? Learn what kind of coverage they have in place—such as Medicare or Medicaid, Medigap coverage, dental insurance, and long-term care insurance.
  • What medications are they taking? And for what conditions? Who is their pharmacist? Make a list of all their medications, including over-the-counter drugs, as well as dosage amounts and instructions for taking them.
  • Who are their doctors—and what are their telephone numbers?
  • What kind of medical intervention do they want in case of an emergency? What do they not want should an event such as a massive stroke or heart attack take place?
  • Do they have any health-related concerns you should know about?
  • When their health declines, what are their preferences? Do they prefer to continue living in their own home? Can their home be modified to make it more livable as they age? Is living with you or a sibling an option?

Financial Issues

  • Is their income adequate and stable? What are their sources of income? Make a list of all investments and account numbers, including bank accounts, CDs, IRAs, stocks, and bonds.
  • Do they anticipate needing financial help from you and your siblings? If so, how much?
  • Who is their accountant and what is his/her phone number?

Legal/Estate Issues

  • Are their estate documents (such as wills and trusts) and beneficiary information current? When was the last time they were reviewed? Trigger events for reviewing these items include marriage, divorce, births and deaths within the family, and tax law changes.
  • Do they have health and financial powers of attorney as well as a living will in place, and have the appointees been informed and provided with copies of all documents? 
  • Where are all their important papers kept, and who has access to them? It may be a good idea for you to have copies of these documents. At the very least, you should know who has them in case of an emergency.
  • What funeral or burial plans do they have? Have they done any pre-planning for their funeral(s)? If not, would they consider it? (Pre-planning can be an excellent way to help ensure that your parents’ final wishes are carried out.)
  • Who is their attorney and what is his/her phone number?

One Step at a Time
When it comes to helping your aging parents and tackling the sensitive issues, consider taking it gradually—don’t try to cover everything in one sitting. By making it clear to your parents that you’re not trying to take over their lives, but merely want to be as helpful as possible, it may be easier to start the dialogue.

Resources You’ll Need
You don’t have to tackle this by yourself. Support and guidance are available by telephone, online, and in your community. There are people skilled in the business of elder care who can make this transition easier for all of you. Here are just a few websites where you’ll find relevant articles, resources, and links to other sites for additional help:

  •—the American Society on Aging: A valuable resource for those working with seniors and their families
  •—the U.S. Administration on Aging: A government agency that strives to help the elderly maintain their dignity and independence
  •  (the Eldercare Locator): A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, which links those who need assistance with state and local area agencies on aging and community-based organizations that serve older adults and their caregivers
  •—The Federal Trade Commission: Provides information for those wishing to plan a funeral. When visiting this website, type “funerals” in the Search box.  

Don’t Overlook Your Own Needs
Guilt, frustration, and resentment are all natural emotions when you’re faced with the demands of caring for an aging parent. So be sure to ask loved ones and friends for any assistance they can provide. And remember, don’t neglect your own needs—or the needs of your family—when caring for your parents.

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