A PLAN FOR CARING
These three steps can help you prepare for when your loved ones need a caregiver.
There comes a time when you realize your parents are getting older and no matter how independent they are, they’re likely going to need your help. After all, more than 20 million Americans are currently providing care for aging parents, according to the latest statistics from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
How do you plan ahead for such a big unknown? Start having the conversation, says Los Angeles–based geriatric care consultant Jennifer Voorlas. “So many families avoid talking about this until something happens, but it’s much more difwcult to make decisions in a crisis,” she says. These three steps will get you on the right path.
1. Consider Where: Evaluate Living Options
Today’s senior living has come a long way from the nursing homes of old—from retirement enclaves to tiered continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) that offer levels of assistance. Yet “aging in place” is by far the most popular option, with 90 percent of Americans age 65 and older saying they want to remain in their homes. Even if this is your parents’ hope, you should discuss how mobility issues or chronic conditions—both of which are likely to get more serious with time—might affect what kind of care they’ll need.
If you think you might not be getting the “straight story” from your parents themselves (an all-too-common scenario), ask to join them for a doctor’s appointment, even “just to take notes.”
Remember that it’s not too early to consult a geriatric care professional who can help you assess your parents’ needs, weigh options and wnd resources. Check if your company offers an employee assistance program, which may include eldercare location services, access to legal advice and other assistance. Or use the Aging Life Care Association’s search referral to wnd a µualiwed local eÝpert.
2. Consider Who: Assess Caregiving Availability
Close to 80 percent of all longterm care in the U.S. is provided free by family members, says Gail Gibson Hunt, founder of the National Alliance for Caregiving. It may be too early for you and your siblings to decide who will do what, but you can discuss how everyone’s location, job and family obligations will factor in. If at all possible, do this via a family meeting or conference call, and ask everyone to be as honest as possible about their capabilities. In many cases, siblings come up with creative ways to balance responsibilities, assigning more of the wnancial burden to siblings who live at a distance or have more demanding careers and more of the hands-on help to those who live closer or have more yeÝible work situations.
Keep in mind that the amount of help needed will likely increase, says Voorlas. “This situation could go on for many years, and you often don’t know if it’s going to be a temporary crisis or if it’s just the beginning of a step-down decline.” Plan to revisit the sharing of responsibilities regularly so that no one sibling ends up stressed and overwhelmed.
3. Consider How: Get a Handle on Finances
If your parents purchased longterm care insurance, you’re in the very lucky minority; just 7.2 million Americans have such a policy, according to AARP. (Many mistakenly believe that Medicare will cover long-term care costs.) Survey data from AARP shows that on average caregivers spend $7,000 a year out of pocket caring for a loved one.
The good news is that there are many sources of wnancial help, some of them underutilized. If either of your parents is a pension-eligible veteran, VA programs known as Aid and Attendance and Housebound will, under certain circumstances, pay for residential and in-home care. Life insurance policies can be accelerated to pay living benewts, or cashed out. On the state and local level, subsidized transportation, meal and day-care activity programs can be a lifeline for family caregivers stretched to the maÝ.
While money and end-of-life care aren’t eÝactly fun dinnertable topics, caregiving will be much less stressful with at least some of these decisions in place. Your parents may need time to get used to the idea, but making sure their wishes are heard will help ease the way.