It happens all the time. I answer the telephone to find a distraught ‘Baby Boomer’ on the other end. I listen quietly while they ask the standard questions and then I give them what they really need – comfort, empathy, emotional support and reassurance that they are not alone.
How many people do you know who are close to retirement and looking forward to a much deserved rest. They start making plans to take a cruise, a trip to Hawaii or plant that garden they never seemed to have time for. Then they get an unexpected, much dreaded ‘phone call – mom or dad has had a stroke, a heart attack or been diagnosed with cancer, Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
With that unexpected news, their lives come to a standstill. Now, instead of making plans for that coveted trip, they are making other plans- how to care for an ill or elderly parent. Future plans and resources are now diverted to the parent who needs care. In the case of a family who only had one child, the responsibility of care for the elderly parent is suddenly placed in his/her lap. Many don’t know what to do, as they are not in a financial position to quit work and look after their parent – they may not be the best person to do so.
For many, looking after an elderly parent is not in their plans. They think their parent or parents are doing well until a crisis occurs. So often, aging parents do not share with their children what is going on. They hide their financial information out of shame or embarrassment. They do not mention their forgetfulness or the pain they are in when their children come to visit for fear that they will become a burden. Or they fearing being be put out of their home and community, into a nursing home.
Whatever the case may be, the adult child now finds the care of their parent[s] overwhelming. The trips to the doctors, taking them shopping or shopping for them, meal preparation, the personal care or financial management becomes all-consuming. Some live in another province or country and just can’t drop everything, put their life on hold to come to the aid of a parent. Guilt, fear and self-condemnation are only a few of the emotions they feel. The really honest ones will confess to feeling anger, resentment, agitation or shame for not wanting, or being able to take care of their mom or dad.
So what is the answer? Is there one? Well for many, the key is preparation or planning ahead – planning, not just for their future and their children’s future, but also for their parents’ future. This saves a whole lot of stress when the time comes. Many parents did not plan on living until they were in their 90’s, so they did not set aside the finances to pay for a care home or other facility. Care homes can cost 4 to 6 thousand dollars a month. Home care can run almost as high.
Here are a few things you can do now to ease the burden of what you may face later:
- Consult a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) or a financial planner. If you are the executor of your parents’ will, talk to their lawyer or to them and make sure it is up-to-date and you understand what their wishes are and who is to execute them. If they don’t have a current will, it is imperative that one be drawn up while they still have all their faculties. Strokes can come on suddenly and, if they are not able to communicate their wishes, it can be hard on the family. Be sure they have assigned someone who has power of attorney or have what is called a Representation Agreement in place.
- Look into care facilities within the area and the cost of care-aides, should they need them. The average cost of extended care is 4 to 6 thousand dollars. The average cost of a care-aide to provide housecleaning or personal care is approx. $30.00 per hour. Find out if they have enough finances in the bank to cover the cost, should they need these services.
- Talk to your parents regularly. Visit if you can. However, if you are not in the same area, make a habit of setting time aside to have in-depth conversations with them on a regular basis. During these conversations, ask questions to determine if there is a problem. Some may become cognitively impaired and unintentionally withdraw. Some may lie as they do not want anyone to know that they are not doing well. They don’t want to complain or be a burden. Ask specific questions that require some thought on the part of your parent(s) to check their cognitive abilities.
- Start paying close attention when you visit. Look for signs of decline. Check to make sure they are taking their medications. With their permission, call their family physician and ask for a list of any illnesses they may have or medications they are on.
- Create a care/elder plan long before it is needed. Have all the important ‘phone numbers readily available in your parents’ home as well as in your own home. This should include the numbers of doctors, specialists, pharmacy, lawyer, banks, insurance company, financial advisors, close friends or neighbours. If they are comfortable to do so, be sure to write down any pin numbers or codes that you will need to help them with their banking. Ask your parents what form of care they would prefer and have them write it down for you. If they develop dementia and you are not close-by, you will have all the numbers on-hand to be able to give them to whomever will be caring for them. Neighbours are a great asset as they can be your eyes and ears.