As aging parents creep past retirement age and into their 70s and 80s, adult children are faced with the same conundrum: how can they enable their mothers and fathers to stay in their homes longer, rather than send their loved one to a retirement home or similar facility?
According to the AARP, 30 million households provide care for an adult over the age of 50, and that number is expected to double by 2040. Failing to plan ahead now could cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention precious time, comfort, and dignity. Take the following tips to heart so you can create a caregiving strategy for your loved ones that will keep them living how they want for as long as possible.
No one wants to have the care discussion with their parents, many of whom want to maintain their independence. Nonetheless, in order to avoid costly, embarrassing, and potentially fatal consequences, this necessary conversation must begin with honesty and compassion.
Effective caregiving plans include family members, close family friends, and other loved ones; they also designate a single “team leader” or point person who facilitates discussions and keeps communication forthcoming. Remember not to make any decision unilaterally. Apart from creating negative emotions, legal consequences may follow if the parent disputes the child’s action.
You may want to consider hiring someone to help with this planning. A geriatric care manager can assist your family with this.
Make a List, Check It Twice
Create checklists for personal information, home maintenance, health, finances, and transportation. These checklists should include all essential information, any necessary phone numbers, the location of documents or other important paperwork, and a division of labor. Allow multiple people — including your parents themselves — to divvy responsibilities where appropriate to ensure that no one person feels the full burden of caregiving.
On the topic of lists, good protocol calls for creating what’s known as a Vial of L.I.F.E. (Lifesaving Information for Emergencies) checklist. Be sure it includes hospital preferences, allergies, medical conditions, insurance information, and emergency contacts. This list can prove essential information in critical situations if the parent cannot respond or otherwise provide the necessary details.
There are organizations available to handle questions about elder care, such as the AARP, or your local government. The Eldercare Locator can provide a variety of services in your neighborhood, and the official Medicare website will inform on free or reduced-cost healthcare offerings.
Should you choose to hire an in-home care provider, there are additional things you want to consider to make sure your loved one is best cared for.
The Power Is Yours
One of the most important and immediate tasks to complete when planning your loved one’s transition plan is designating a power of attorney and arranging for decision-making processes to occur in the event of incapacity.
The documents that must be created are the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care — which you probably know as a “living will” — as well as a Physician’s Order for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST), the Durable Power of Attorney for Asset Management (or Finance), and the will itself.
- The powers of attorney provide for a trusted person like a child to make legal and health care decisions for a loved one who is physically unable.
- The POLST replaces a Do Not Resuscitate directive and allows individuals to decide whether or not emergency responders and other medical professionals should provide certain treatments.
- A will establishes how one’s assets and estate will be distributed. It’s quite possible your loved one already has a will in place.
Many families will also want to create a living trust, which places the control of an estate’s assets with a legal entity. Both of these allow for assets to bypass legal probate, which can be a lengthy and stressful process.
Make Use of Technology
Technology has made it easier for families to anticipate and ameliorate concerns for elderly family members. Try utilizing these techniques to provide convenient care for your loved one.
1. Home Delivery
Amazon Prime or similar home delivery services are fantastic ways to ensure that household goods never run out. Paper products, incontinence products, hygiene items and toiletries, cleaning supplies, and even some dry goods can be delivered right to the doorstep in just a day or two. A “wish list” can be created to provide a handy source for the necessary items, and family members can order off the list and pay directly, circumventing any complicating factors.
2. A Pre-Paid and Pre-Programmed Phone
Gone are the days of leafing through books filled with chicken scratch handwriting, trying to find the right phone number. Buy an inexpensive phone and pre-program essential phone numbers with simple, easy-to-understand labels. For example, emergency services, doctors, family members, and neighbors can be programmed, saving valuable time in a critical situation. Keep it simple so you can teach your loved one how to operate the device.
3. Keep Pills on Lockdown
Many senior citizens take multiple pills a day, and forgetting dosages or mixing medicines can be a fatal hazard to the elderly. Even though most pill containers are labeled, aging parents become easily confused; these containers are also unsafe for visiting children. Buying an automatic, lockable pill dispenser means medicines are tamper-proof and only accessible when needed. Many of these also alert the parent (or caregiver) when pills are running low to make re-ordering easier.
4. Keep Information Managed and Centralized
Google Drive has an assortment of invaluable, accessible, and free tools to organize, manage, and share important materials within a family. Living wills, power of attorney documents, medication lists, pharmacy prescriptions, home security system passwords, and other important lists and information can be accessed by multiple family members. Google has downloadable apps that allow this data to be retrieved on mobile phones, convenient for trips to the pharmacy, doctor, or attorney.
A caregiver is essential for handling much of the mail delivered to the home of an elderly family member. The generation going through these life changes often relies on physical mail, instead of email, but may find it increasingly difficult to organize all they receive. Designate someone to sort important bills and other financially important items from the catalogs, magazines, and junk mail received on a daily basis. Another option is to have the important mail, such as information from banks and brokerage accounts, forwarded to the physical address of a trusted family member or power of attorney.
One out of three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall, which is the leading cause of serious injury among seniors. Purchase a monitoring system that has a medical alert button can be invaluable. It will alert emergency responders in the event of a major fall or other injury. Some come with buttons that can be worn on the body for easy accessibility, and others offer two-way communication to keep the fallen person on the line while medical assistance arrives. Consider also purchasing grab bars and benches in potentially hazardous areas, like bathrooms, foyers, and steps.
And finally, seniors with dementia are prone to wandering off. If this is a concern you have for your loved one, consider purchasing an inexpensive door chime to ring when the front door is opened. This will alert others in the house before he or she can get very far.
What steps can you take this week to create a caregiving plan for your parents? Let us know in the comments section.
Kathleen Webb co-founded HomeWork Solutions in 1993 to provide payroll and tax services to families employing household workers. Kathy has extensive experience preparing ‘nanny tax’ payroll taxes. She is the author of numerous articles on this topic and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, and the Congressional Quarterly. She also consulted with Senate staffers in the drafting of the 1994 Nanny Tax Law.