Whether you're two hours away or across the country from aging parents, you may be helping in all ways that are considered caregiving. It's not just the hands-on work that makes a caregiver. It's paying attention, paying bills, watching over finances, offering transportation or even taking frail elders in your life on vacation with you. Rosalyn Carter once said
“There are only four kinds of people in the world.
Those who have been caregivers.
Those who are currently caregivers.
Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”
I think she was right about that. These days, with aging parents of Boomers living into their 90s and beyond, most Boomers who still have parents are doing some kind of caregiving. And with our generation of 73 million Boomers also aging (they call us "the youngest old") some of us are starting to need caregiving too. Families are often scattered far from their aging loved ones. Here at AgingParents.com, we have advised clients who have a parent in the U.S. and the adult child client lives in another country. We frequently speak with adult children who have parents in one state, siblings in another state and the responsible person in yet a different state from the others. This can create communication issues, different opinions about what aging parents need and want, and in the end, frustration and fights.
Here are four strategies that can help. Rather than go willy-nilly into caregiving as often happens, it pays to have a plan. Essential elements can be these:
Be sure that aging parents have gotten their legal paperwork together and updated. Appointed people on documents can change, move or pass away, leaving a problem if a parent becomes disabled or unable to speak for himself. They need a will, trust, durable power of attorney for finances and advanced health care directive, also called a living will or medical power of attorney. The latter two can be gotten at no cost online in their state. Preparation of basic legal documents is not particularly pricey, as most are a kind of form the lawyer helps flesh out. If their affairs are complex, they can afford a lawyer so urge them to see one.
Call a family meeting by phone, video conference or in person and consider the "what ifs" together. What would happen if a parent had a sudden health crisis, such as a fall, a stroke or a heart attack? It's not as if those unpleasant subjects are unlikely or impossible. They happen to millions of people every day. What would you/ your family members do? Who would be in charge? Who is the point person for others? It's best to figure this all out as best you can when you are not in the midst of a crisis.
Your aging parents' wishes need to be made clear to all who would be in the caregiving role. They need to participate in a family meeting and be invited to say what they would want in the event of disability of any kind. You need to ask them questions that go beyond the nearly universal statement that "I'd like to stay at home as long as possible". That's only a first step. What else would they want?
Cost of care needs to be discussed too. Yes, we all think we won't need it, but at least a third of us will need long term care in some form eventually. The longer we live, the higher the likelihood of needing long term care. Since Medicare does not cover it at all, families need to figure out what assets parents have to pay for it. If they are low income, the other family needs to be straightforward about who could contribute financially or whether aging parents could move in with available family.
"The Family Guide To Aging Parents, written by a nurse-attorney will help you with practical answers to your aging loved ones' legal, healthcare and financial issues."
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