One of the challenges facing many Baby Boomers these days is caring for aging parents. It’s natural to want to help your parents – after all, they’ve done so much for you. However, no matter how good your intentions, sometimes financial realities can’t be ignored – and neither can the stress and emotional issues that come with taking on a caregiver role. Below are some strategies and suggestions to help both you and your parents in this phase of life.
1. Create a Caregiving Budget
Your first step is to understand how much it is likely to cost to care for your aging parents. Whether you are helping them live in their own home, hoping to move them to an assisted living facility or planning to invite them to live with you, it’s important to create a budget. Find out how much each option will cost, and consider where the money will come from. Often, this step requires a “family meeting” with your siblings to work out a course of action. If trusts are involved, a meeting with trustees is important. Make sure you’re being realistic in your caregiving budget.
2. Look at Low-Cost and Free Public Benefits
Find out about resources in your area that can help. Caregiving can be emotionally draining, as well as financially stressful, and low-cost and free public benefits and programs can help alleviate some of the pressure on both fronts. Senior centers and adult day care can help you find time for yourself, to work or simply to take a needed break. Check with the “eldercare locator” on Eldercare.gov, as well as the National Council on Aging’s benefits checklist, to find information about what’s available to you.
Other public benefits to understand include Medicare and Medicaid. Realize that Medicare doesn’t cover nursing home stays, and that there are certain requirements to be met before Medicaid covers such stays. Learn about prescription drug benefits, and understand these costs. You should also find out about Medigap and Medicare Advantage plans, and how they can work with the coverage your parents currently have.
4. Get Your Parents’ Estate in Order
As you care for your aging parents, you will need to make increasingly important decisions about finances, care, and living arrangements. The sooner you talk to your parents about their wishes and their estate, the better. Find out about trusts, wills, and other financial matters. It can be uncomfortable to discuss these issues, but it is an important conversation to have. You want to make sure that your parents’ financial resources are being used as they wish, and to their benefit.
5. Be Prepared for Alzheimer’s/Dementia
Watching your parents’ declining mental state is one of the most difficult parts of caring for your parents. You need to be patient with aging parents, and try not to speak condescendingly as they repeat a story for the fifth time, or forget important pieces of information that you shared earlier. If you need a break, settle your parent in a safe place and take one.
Dementia also makes seniors vulnerable to financial scams targeted at the elderly, from Social Security scams to tax fraud to check cashing ploys. Watch closely, and help your parents protect their assets.
6. Take a Break
The emotional strain of caring for aging parents can quickly add up, and you will need time for yourself. There are facilities that can take your parents for a few days while you decompress, or if you have siblings, ask if mom or dad can stay for a week. Your emotional state will improve, and you will give better care as a result, if you’re able to take a break. While your parents sleep, or while they are at the adult day care, do something you enjoy to relieve stress.
7. Get Help When You Need It
Whole books have been written about caring for your aging parents, as well as volumes about estate planning, understanding dementia and other relevant topics.
You can also ask for help from professionals. In-home caregivers, doctors, senior centers, community organizations and even your church congregation can provide help. And, if you are having trouble coping with the emotional strain, seek counseling for yourself.
With the right planning, and with a good support system, you’ll be able to provide the proper care for your parents – and for yourself.
How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris
A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — And Ourselves by Jane Gross
The Complete Eldercare Planner by Joy Loverde
The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.