Being a caregiver for an aging parent is not easy and creates a tremendous burden not only on yourself but on your family and your career. If you are age 30 to 65, unless you have been hiding under a rock, you have heard much about long-term care planning.
Many people have already purchased an affordable Long-Term Care Insurance policy. In fact, American families are benefiting from these policies. In 2019 alone, the major insurance companies paid out over $11 Billion in benefits. This money is paying for quality care either in people's own homes or in facilities. With quality care being paid for by an LTC policy, there is plenty of time for the family to be family. Plus, don't forget the asset protection the policies provide.
However, what about your aging parents? Is it too late for them? What things can you do to help parents as they get older?
If your aging parents are still healthy and independent, Long-Term Care Insurance might still be an option. Traditional Long-Term Care Insurance plans, "hybrid" or asset-based single premium plans, and short-term care plans might be available for them.
What if Mom and Dad Need Care Soon?
Seeing Mom and Dad age is not easy. Sometimes we ignore the signs because we just don't want to believe that they are losing their control and independence. If they are already in or close to a care situation, there are actions you can take now to help.
If you see these unmistakable signs, what things can you do today to help them and the rest of the family?
If your parents are getting older and they are slowing down, you should focus on getting them the help they need with their basic needs. In some cases, you may not trust them living home alone. If they are suffering from cognitive decline, they might need supervision.
They, on the other hand, may disagree. You need to prepare for the pushback you might get from your aging parent or loved one. When there is a lack of advance planning makes this more difficult.
What About Mom and Dad's Home?
If you live close enough, you might be able to take care of basic maintenance issues. If you can't cut the lawn, shovel snow and remove ice and do routine maintenance, you will want to hire someone to do so.
While the home should be a safe-haven, for older adults, many will suffer from non-fatal injuries each year at home.
Home injuries may include but are not limited to falls, poisoning, burns, choking, and drowning. You want to provide an environment where they a safe so they can avoid a situation where they could hurt themselves.
Falls - the Big Risk at Home
Falls are one of the most common risks older individuals face and often lead to emergency room visits and long-term care. Make sure the home is adequately equipped for any disabilities or physical impairments your parents may have.
The danger of falls is a major concern. According to the National Institute on Aging, six out of every ten falls happen at home, where they spend much of their time and tend to move around without thinking about safety. Many falls could be prevented by making simple changes in their living areas, as well as personal and lifestyle changes.
How to Reduce Fall Risk
Because falling is so common, you should take steps to "fall-proof" the home, both inside and outdoors. To make their home safer:
- remove or avoid safety hazards
- improve lighting
- install handrails and grab bars in bathrooms
- move items to make them easier to reach
An important step toward preventing falls at home is to remove anything that could cause your aging parent to trip or slip while they walk.
Tripping on clutter, small furniture, pet bowls, electrical or phone cords, or other clutter can cause a fall. Slipping on rugs or slippery floors can also cause falls.
Arrange furniture to give them plenty of room to walk freely. Also, remove items from stairs, hallways, and pathways. Be sure that carpets are secured to the floor and stairs. Remove throw rugs, use non-slip mats, or attach rugs to the floor with double-sided tape.
Put non-slip strips on floors, steps, and non-slip strips or a rubber mat on the floor of your bathtub or shower, as well. You can buy these items at a home center or hardware store.
Make sure night lights are available in hallways and bathrooms. Good lighting will prevent falls, especially at night, when they may get up and go to the bathroom.
How About Pets?
If they have pets, make sure they can care for them. Pets are great companions, but they also need to be taken care of properly. Keep in mind a dog or cat can provide great comfort for anyone, especially an older adult. These articles are worth reading:
Start looking for service providers to help them if you are unable to do so. Interview them before you need them, so when a provider is required, you can get them to work quickly. Just as you would for your home, take recommendations from trusted friends, and interview a few professionals for these jobs.
Include your aging parent, so they feel part of the process even if they are not in the best position to make decisions on their own.
Perhaps one of the hardest things any person wants to give up is the ability to be independent, and that means their ability to drive and use their vehicle.
Having a conversation about your parents driving skills in advance before a problem occurs is ideal. Discuss with them what happens when they no longer can safely operate a vehicle. Be sure to observe their driving skills and, if necessary, urge them to give up driving once you see they pose a danger to themselves and others.
This article about taking the keys away from Mom or Day will be helpful:
Once they no longer can drive, see if their community has senior transportation services. In some cases, churches and other non-profit groups provide these services as well.
Many seniors use services like Uber. Uber participated in the White House Conference on Aging, where they unveiled plans for community-based senior outreach and services for older adults. This will allow more freedom for your parents without them waiting for you to pick them up and take them where they need to go.
Are your parents able to grocery shop on their own? Are they buying appropriate quantities of food and other supplies? Are they able to operate stoves and ovens safely? Are they eating enough?
There are services available where groceries can be picked up and delivered to them. A grocery delivery service comes at a cost but provides a tremendous amount of convenience.
If you do live nearby, you may want to make it an event with your parents, taking them to the store and help them put away the groceries.
This way you can spend time with them and watch what they want to purchase.
Then look to see if they are actually eating what they buy. Sometimes the elderly will not eat as much as they should, and food might be going to waste.
They can even order from their favorite restaurant, and their meal is delivered to them. Be careful, however, that they are making smart choices for both their diet and their budget.
When your parent is older, they will need to see the doctor more often. If you or another loved one lives nearby, it is a good idea that someone should attend a doctor's office visit with your Mom or Dad. Many times the senior will not remember what the doctor said or misrepresent to you what the doctor has told them. Having someone who can take notes and inform the rest of the family is vital. Plus, you can make sure your parent is following the directions of their doctor.
They probably are taking several prescriptions. Are they taking the medications correctly? Look at the bottles and the dates on the bottle to see if the medicines are being taken correctly. Have someone take the medications and place them into a weekly or monthly pillbox to avoid any confusion about whether they have taken the drug or not.
There are a variety of these organizers available, ranging from those with enough compartments for two or more daily doses for each day of the week to those that sound an alarm when it's time to take the medication.
If they start having more advanced memory issues, a home health aide may be required to help with medication management.
Basic Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene can be a tough issue as it is embarrassing for both the older parent and the family member. Bathingoneself can be physically exhausting for some older people. Plus, the physical act of providing care for a loved one is strenuous in that it requires lifting and transferring.
Dealing with the hygiene needs of your loved one can also be psychologically demanding. Aging parents are generally embarrassed and sad that an adult child must bath them or dress them, and adult children are heartbroken from having to do so.
Because of this, having a health aide help might be the best option.
Personal care starts with the basics. Try to set a bathing schedule that meets their needs. Daily showers are typically not necessary for an older loved one with a sedentary lifestyle. What they may only need is a daily sponge bath and a shower or full bath a few times a week.
Try to minimize embarrassment by having a conversation about an upcoming activity they enjoy to take attention away from the situation. Allow your loved one to maintain as much of their self-care as is safely possible.
Prepare their bath water before bringing them into the bathroom to help minimize agitation. If they have Alzheimer's disease, often they become afraid of water and especially of the sound of running water.
Don't forget dental care. It is one area that seniors are often able to maintain longer with minimal support. Routine dental care, including regular visits to the dentist, is essential for oral health and has even been linked to heart disease prevention.
Adult Daycare or Assisted Living Might Be an Answer
At some point, adult daycare or assisted living might be in everyone's best interest. Be sure to have a power-of-attorney for both healthcare and property.
Typically, one sibling will take on the most work. They should communicate with the other family members. Conflicts will come up… know that in advance.
Try to agree on a plan of care for the parent or parents. Planning would make this much easier, but for far too many, no thought is given to the financial and emotional issues of aging. If you see your parents headed in this direction, try to avoid crisis management and stay on top of the issues before they become significant issues. If you are already in crisis management, try to remain calm, both for you and your family and your parent.
Help from Government Agencies
Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) are experts on all aspects of aging. They were created by federal law in 1974 to help older Americans and their caregivers to live quality lives with independence and dignity. There are over 600 in the United States, and they can help provide resources for your aging parent.
Most agencies serve a particular geographic area of several neighboring counties, although a few offer services statewide. This is especially true in smaller or less densely populated states. All the AAAs receive federal funding under the Older American Act and most supplement that funding with additional state and local revenues.
Agencies may use the phrase "Area Agency on Aging" in their name, such as the Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Arkansas, or they may simply call themselves the County Office on Aging.
Each Area Agency on Aging provides a different suite of services, although there are basic services that are supplied by nearly all AAAs. These include:
- Nutrition - counseling, home-delivered and congregated meals
- Caregiver Support - respite care and caregiver training
- Information & Referral - information about assistance programs and referrals to administrators
- Long-Term Care Ombudsmen - information about long-term care facilities and investigation of complaints
- Insurance Counseling - helping seniors understand and maximize the benefits of their insurance especially Medicare
- Transportation - assistance understanding and coordinating shared, non-medical transportation services
A lesser, but still significant. A percentage of AAAs also help families in completing applications for assistance programs such as Medicaid, respite care, and certain veterans' programs. Finally, case management is a much-valued option, though offered more selectively than other types of help. Click here to find the closest one near your aging parent: www.agingcare.com
What Have You Done Differently than Mom or Dad?
Then ask yourself what you have done differently than your parents to plan for the physical, emotional, and financial burdens that come with aging. Long-term Care Insurance should be part of your planning so your family can benefit from both the financial resources and case management many policies provide.
The best time to get a Long-Term Care policy is when you are younger and enjoy good health. Ideally, start planning in your 40s or 50s before you retire. Several types of policies are available from many insurance companies.