Care planning for your aging parents can be an emotional minefield. The people who have cared for you for much of your life now need care themselves. This can reopen childhood wounds, spur thoughts of your own mortality, and even be a source of resentment. Yet caregiving can also be profoundly rewarding. It’s a chance to give back to the parents who have given you so much. Or, if your relationship with your parents has always been conflicted—or downright problematic—caregiving may be a shot at redemption. You don’t have to do it all at once, and you don’t have to be perfect. You need only take it one day at a time. Here’s how to begin the care-planning process for your aging parents.
Talk About Care Options Early
It’s never too early to begin discussing senior care options. Most people find that the conversation is easier when they’re not facing a crisis such as a dementia diagnosis or a recent car accident. Talk about long-term care options with your parents early and often. Some questions that can help you begin the discussion include:
- Have you thought about how you want to spend your retirement?
- Have you saved for senior care or invested in long-term care insurance?
- If you’re no longer able to live independently, have you thought about what kind of support you would like?
- What’s most important to you as you age?
- What are your biggest fears about aging?
It’s important to directly discuss senior living communities. Many seniors believe the myths they’ve heard, which are based on the nursing homes of a previous generation. Showing your parents that today’s senior living communities offer the opportunity for a more active lifestyle can reduce their fears and open their minds to an excellent long-term option.
Look for Red Flags
The need for senior care can appear suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. Your mother or father might fall or get into a car accident, necessitating immediate intervention. Or the decline can be so slow that it’s almost imperceptible from day to day. It’s normal for your parents to change with age, and even to slow down a little. What’s not normal is for them to become increasingly unable to meet their own basic needs. Some warning signs to look for include:
- Frequent unexplained injuries: Does your parent have cuts, scrapes, or bruises? Has he or she recently fallen?
- A house that is increasingly in disrepair.
- Changes in personal appearance and hygiene: Is your mother losing weight? Does your father smell like he hasn’t bathed? Are his clothes dirty or disheveled?
- Increased isolation: Has your parent stopped coming to family functions or doing things he or she once enjoyed?
- Changes in mood or personality: Does your parent seem depressed or anxious?
- Driving issues: Has your mother lost her driver’s license? Does the car have dings or scratches? Has your father received a large number of traffic tickets?
Consider others’ opinions as well. What do your parents’ doctors say? Has a neighbor or friend expressed concern? If you don’t live near your parents or see them frequently, it can be helpful to check in occasionally with the people who see them the most.
Know Your Legal and Financial Options
Senior care may be more affordable than you think, particularly since your parents may no longer have to pay the exorbitant costs of home ownership. Nevertheless, it’s still helpful to get expert guidance, particularly if you think your parents may need to apply for Medicaid. Consider meeting with an elder care lawyer, who can help you understand how financial decisions made today can affect future options. An accountant may also be able to help you understand how best to manage your parents’ investments, or how to use your own investments to fund their care.
Explore Care Options
Once you have a general idea of your parents’ needs and your budgetary constraints, it’s time to begin the search. Before you begin, create a list of needs. These may include things like memory care, quality nutrition, and daily activities. Next, make a list of wants. These are items—such as a gardening program—that you’d like your parent or parents to have but that might be negotiable for the right place.
Armed with these lists, begin seeking recommendations from friends, family, and doctors. Read online reviews, and consult senior-care message boards. This should help you devise a list of three to five possible senior communities. Your final step will be to visit these communities. Include your parent or parents in the visit, because the final decision should be theirs. And remember, the sooner you begin the process of visiting communities, the sooner you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing there’s a great community out there. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis.
If you’re concerned about one or both of your parents’ declining mobility or dementia, broaching the topic of senior care can be tough. Senior living doesn’t have to be a source of stress. In fact, seniors who move to an Arbor community report better quality of life, greater independence, and a revived sense of purpose. If you’re ready to begin the conversation, we can help you explore your options and support you in your talk with your parents. We’re here to answer your questions, so give us a call!