According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, by the year 2050 the U.S. population age 65 or older will grow more than 148% from 2000 levels. Because of this growing trend–the aging of America–millions of people will find themselves taking care of an elderly parent. This is the case for Yvette Belnavis.
“It can be very difficult seeing your parent undergo age-related changes. The most significant challenge that a caregiver can face is caring for an elderly parent while trying to maintain a life for yourself and your family, ” says Belnavis, who is caring for her 91-year-old mother. And she is finding herself, like so many others, trying to juggle medical and legal decisions as well as family stresses and additional responsibilities.
According to a USA TODAY/ABC News/Gallup Poll of baby boomers (those born between and including 1946 and 1964), 41% who have a living parent are providing care for them — either via financial help or personal care. In fact, an estimated 34 million Americans act as unpaid caregivers for other adults, usually elderly relatives, according to a study by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons).
This responsibility takes planning–physically, financially and emotionally. But being prepared can make matters easier.
First, ask yourself several questions:
• Does your parent need help with dressing, bathing, cooking or eating?
• Does your parent need help maintaining the household?
• Can your parent still drive or use public transportation alone?
• Can your parent handle their finances alone?
• Is your parent experiencing vision, hearing or memory loss?
If yes to these questions, you will need to step in. You will need to complete a variety of legal paperwork. Arrange for financial power of attorney. This will allow you to make financial decisions and pay bills for your parent. Have your parent prepare a living will, which will give directions about life-support decisions. You will also need to have a medical power of attorney in order to make any health care decisions. This is what Belnavis experienced. “Go to a lawyer with your parent and have a medical power of attorney document drafted. Also have a power of attorney granting permission to make financial decisions on your parent’s behalf. This will enable you to make changes to their bank account so that you can pay their bills utilizing their funds,” offers Belnavis.
“When you start to notice the changes (which can be very subtle) that your parents are undergoing, the first step to take is to take them to their medical doctor. Find out all of the medical issues they have. Let the doctor give them a medical exam/physical so that you can have a benchmark by which to measure any physical, mental or physiological changes,” advises Belnavis. “Though it may be difficult to have, if your parents are beginning to undergo mental changes, find out what their last wishes are regarding burial or estate planning (last will and testament). Find out if they have a life insurance policy that can be used towards their funeral expenses. Try to determine if they are continuing to handle household matters, such as cooking, shopping, and paying bills. If they change their eating or grooming habits, it can signal that they are undergoing mental changes. Oftentimes, if you see that they are getting duplicate invoices, second notices or even credit memos; there may be something amiss.”
Keep your parent in the loop. Communicate with them about their wishes. “Have a talk with your elderly parent about the type of care they want in the event of a medical emergency. Your elderly parent may fear losing their independence; however, the caregiver should be a support, helping them to continue doing routine things,” says Belnavis.
Get information about their insurance (Medicare/Medicaid number, supplement). Get their medical information and records, including all their doctors’ names and contact information. Make copies of their ID, such as social security, drivers license, etc. Organize all the bills–from mortgage to tax records.
One of the toughest aspects is finance. There is a high cost associated with assisted living facilities, in-home care and medical expenses. Start thinking about the finances early–before your parent actually needs help. Have a discussion with your parents about their finances and planning for the future. Start setting aside money for this occasion. Also, discuss with your siblings how to prepare financially. This, however, is sometimes a sticky situation. Often, one child finds him or herself solely caring for the parent. This is the situation Belnavis is finding herself in.
“It can be very difficult financially for the caregiver. Because of Medicare’s rules and regulations, senior citizens often have to try to protect their assets. While Medicare has different senior care programs, the caregiver may have to supplement their elderly parent’s living expenses. Currently, I am trying to work within my mother’s budget so that she can get reliable home care. Home care, however, is very expensive,” offers Belnavis. Check out http://www.medicare.gov/nursing/alternatives/other.asp and Medicare.gov for (www.medicare.gov) alternatives to nursing home care.
“One of the biggest obstacles I face is enlisting my siblings to assist with caring for my mother. For reasons that are unknown to me, my siblings do not often communicate with our mother. Perhaps they feel that because I still live at home, they do not have to do anything. It is, however, very frustrating to me, because of all my siblings, I have the most children. I have to manage my household concerns, as well as my mother’s, in addition to holding down a job while allowing my children to have life experiences, also. My mother steadily and increasingly needs more assistance. I am trying to find moments for myself (especially because life is not promised to anyone). There are no guarantees that I will survive my parent. Keeping that in mind, I try not to stress over the small things,” she says.
According to AARP, caregivers who contribute financially to a parent spend an average of $2,400 a year. Those who spend 40 hours or more a week with an aging parent, spend an average of $3,888 of their own money each year. When the parent moves in with the adult child, the caregiver will find him or herself spending much more.
Although you are taking care of your parent, don’t forget to take care of yourself. According to reports, a majority of those taking care of a parent found that their own health has worsened because of care giving. An astonishing 91% of caregivers suffer from depression. Seek out support groups in your area (check the Internet) to help deal with this new phase in your life.