Six Tips for Caring for an Aging Parent
I should change my name to Reuben because I am now part of the sandwich generation.
My wife and I have two kids and three aging parents.
It seems as if we’re constantly rushing between driving my daughter to soccer practice and to one of our parents’ houses or the hospital.
It’s been a rough few years, and I know I’m not the only one.
A 2014 study showed that 53% of adults are caring for a relative age 65 or older. That number is likely to increase, as the number of people over the age of 65 is expected to double between 2014 and 2039.
Additionally, 1 in 7 adults in their 40s and 50s is providing financial support to a child and a parent.
I’m blessed that our parents don’t need help financially – at least not right now. But being that we are their only children who live near them, we’re the ones showing up at the hospital, making sure their medication is right and managing a host of other responsibilities.
I’m sure anyone who has been in a similar situation will agree it’s extremely stressful. A recent health crisis involving my mother left me more stressed than I’ve ever been in my life.
I know that most parents would never want to be a burden on their children, financially or otherwise. But unfortunately, as we get older and sicker, that is exactly what can happen.
Here are a few tips to make the responsibility of caring for an aging parent a little easier – or if you’re a parent, to lighten the load for your children.
Power of attorney. Thank God my mother had the foresight to grant me power of attorney before she got sick. It made it so much easier to check on her finances, pay her bills, speak to her advisors and lawyers, and make sure everything was in order.
You obviously have to trust your children or whomever you’re granting power of attorney to. But assuming you trust your kids, strongly consider giving them power of attorney now so they don’t have to spend hours trying to get access to accounts and services.
If you’re the adult child, have that conversation with your parents as soon as possible. You don’t want to have to try to get power of attorney in the middle of a crisis.
Talk to your human resources department. Some companies have benefits that can be helpful for adults taking care of aging parents. Whether it’s paid time off or counselors you can speak to, many employers have resources for this type of situation that are not widely advertised.
Ask for help. If you’re the parent, ask your children for help, but be as specific as possible. The hardest part for a caregiver is that it feels so overwhelming we don’t know where to start.
Tell your kids which aspects of your life you’d like them to handle. “Jane, I’d like you to pay my bills if I’m unable to. Nick, can you make sure my prescriptions are filled?”
If you’re the caregiver, don’t be shy about asking for help. My brother lives out of state. After weeks of doing everything myself, I asked him to come down for a week and also to take care of the medical bills since he has experience working with health insurers.
I realize family dynamics are sometimes complicated, but you won’t get the help unless you ask for it.
Have the uncomfortable conversation. Talk to your parents or kids about finances now. Everyone should understand where all the accounts are and roughly what’s in them.
That way, if decisions have to be made and the parent is unable to make them, the kids will have an idea of what the available options are.
Additionally, everyone should know what the funeral plans are ahead of time. If plots have been bought or other arrangements have been made, all parties should have copies of all documents.
When the time comes and emotions are running high, the kids won’t be scrambling to make sure their parents’ wishes are honored.
Decide how much this is going to cost. If you’re helping your parents financially, decide ahead of time the limits to what you will spend on their care. It may sound heartless, but you have to take care of yourself and your family too.
You shouldn’t allow your parents’ situation to cause you a financial disaster that may affect the rest of your life.
Setting those limits and making your parents aware of them will help everyone make better financial decisions, and parents will understand that their kids are not the Fed with unlimited resources to print money.
Be good to yourself. These situations are loaded with stress and can last a long time. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Exercise is a great stress reliever.
Do something fun. Whether it’s going out with friends, seeing a show or relaxing at home, it’s important to take some time for yourself. This is not just for you – it will make you a more effective caregiver as well.
This stuff is hard. It requires tough conversations. It’s emotionally, physically and financially draining for all parties involved. But a little planning and discipline can make a very difficult situation a little easier.
What are your tips for dealing with this situation, either as a parent or as a child? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
About Marc Lichtenfeld
A master of the steady, reliable science of income investing, Marc’s commentary has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report. He has also appeared on CNBC, Fox Business and Yahoo Finance. His book Get Rich With Dividends: A Proven System for Double-Digit Returns achieved best-seller status shortly after its release in 2012. He captures the hearts and minds of readers approaching their golden years in his daily e-letter, Wealthy Retirement.