Some people live their entire lives with little or no assistance from family and friends, but today Americans are living longer than ever before. And while caring for your aging parents is something you hope you can handle when the time comes, it’s probably the last thing you want to think about.
The first step: talk to your parents.
How to get the conversation started.
The most difficult step you take toward caring for your parents may, in fact, be having that initial conversation with them about it. They may be unwilling or unable to talk about their future because of:
• Fear of becoming dependent
• Resentment toward you for interfering
• Reluctance to burden you with their problems.
If you are nervous about talking to your parents, make a list of topics that you need to discuss, such as:
• Long-term care insurance: Do they have it? If not, should they buy it?
• Living arrangements: Can they still live alone, or is it time to explore other options?
• Medical-care decisions: What are their wishes, and who will carry them out?
• Financial planning: How can you protect their assets? Will they eventually need to apply for Medicaid?
• Estate planning: Do they have all of the necessary documents (eg, wills, trusts)?
• Expectations: What do you expect from your parents, and what do they expect from you?
Reinforce with them that you only want what is best for them, but without proper planning that can become very difficult to achieve.
Prepare a personal data record.
Once you have opened the lines of communication, your next step is to prepare a personal data record. This document lists information that you might need in case your parents become incapacitated or die:
• Financial information: Bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate holdings
• Legal information: Wills, durable powers of attorney, health care directives
• Funeral and burial plans: Prepayment information, final wishes Do they have an Irrevocable Funeral Trust?
• Medical information: Health care providers, medication, medical history
• Insurance information: Policy numbers, company names
• Advisor information: Names and phone numbers of any professional service providers
• Location of other important records: Keys to safe-deposit boxes, real estate deeds.
Discuss where your parents will live.
If your parents are like many older folks, where they live will depend on how healthy they are. Their options may include:
• In-home health care
• Health care within a retirement community or nursing home
• Living with you or other family members
All of these decisions can have an impact on you and your family, so make sure this decision is given serious thought.
Evaluate your parents’ abilities.
If you are concerned about your parents’ mental or physical capabilities, ask their doctor(s) to recommend a facility for a geriatric assessment to determine your parents’ capabilities for day-to-day activities. The facility can then refer you and your parents to organizations that provide support.
Get support and advice.
Don’t try to care for your parents alone. Many local and national caregiver support groups and community services are available to help you cope with caring for your aging parents. If you don’t know where to find help, contact your state’s department of elder care service.