All children lucky enough to have parents that live well into their golden years face the daunting task of transitioning from being the person cared for to being the person that does the caring. Life’s patterns are sometimes neatly circular, but this does not mean they are easy to navigate. Not only does learning to care for aging parents mean tackling many complex issues, it means navigating a shift in relationship dynamics that can be straining and scary. The five steps presented below aim to help ease the burden by providing a straightforward guide to accomplishing key tasks.
1. Gain A Clear Picture of Your Parents’ Needs
The first step to ensuring aging parents are well taken care of is assessing their needs. To gain a holistic picture, it helps to consider the different domains in which support may be needed. These include:
- Home safety
- Physical and cognitive health
- Family support and social well-being
- Meal preparation
- Personal hygiene
Begin by making a list of both the current support they receive and additional support they may need regarding each of the above. Don’t shy away from asking for insight if you are unsure how they are managing in certain domains. Once you have a complete picture of your parents’ needs, you can proceed to investigate available resources.
2. Assess Your Abilities (and Be Honest!)
It is natural to feel an obligation to care for your parents the way they have cared for you. However, sometimes this is not possible, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. You are not doing yourself or your parents any favors by overestimating your abilities or overextending your resources. As you assess your parents’ needs, it is crucial that you also assess your own. Ask:
- Are you healthy enough to take on the caretaker role?
- Is your relationship with your parents conducive to spending a lot of time together and even, perhaps, sharing a household?
- Do you have the time to learn to provide proper care?
- Will you be able to care for your own family if you assume the added responsibility of caring for your parents?
If attending to your aging parents’ growing needs comes at the expense of your well-being or that of other loved ones in your life, you are making a mistake. Where this is the case, it is crucial to explore professional care resources that ensure the entire constellation of your family remains healthy, including yourself. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you both identify these resources and build a plan to shoulder the cost.
3. Involve Your Parents in the Conversation
Adjusting to a new dynamic where you, the child, assume a caretaker role may be just as challenging for your parents as for you. What’s more, acknowledging the need for support may threaten your parents’ sense of independence. For both of these reasons, it is crucial that they participate in the conversation.
Don’t expect that you will be able to accomplish all that may need doing at once or that you will arrive at an agreement about how to provide care in a single exchange. Designing a support plan is a process and multiple conversations will be required.
After an initial discussion, it often helps to involve gain professional insight, including advice from an experienced estate planning attorney, as the care provided will be a function of available services and financial resources. Often, public benefits such as Medicaid are eventually required to meet an aging parents’ complete set of needs, and qualifying for this program required advanced planning.
Contact Attorney James M. Miskell