Most parents are a source of stability for their children throughout their lives. But, as time goes on, roles begin to shift, and often, parents are the ones who need assistance. This is a difficult transition, especially if the adult child has a family of his or her own. So, the more prepared you are now the easier this process is if the time comes that you take on the role of caregiver to one or both of your parents.
There are a lot of variables that can lead to role switches in a family. Thankfully, people are living longer these days, some well into their 90s. Regardless of their health, they’ll need help in their older years—doing yard work, paying bills, running errands, or taking your parent to doctor appointments. Navigating the ins-and-outs of Medicare and Social Security can be daunting for an elderly person. But, when a parent becomes ill, adult children are frequently expected to take on the more time-consuming caregiver role.
Whether the transition sneaks up on you over time or makes a swift appearance due to a parent’s failing health, the struggle for parents and children is real.
Discuss Options with Your Parents Now
Whether you are an only child or one of several children—you and your parents should discuss how this shift in roles should work before it happens. Caring for aging parents (especially if they are ill) can be difficult physically and emotionally. It’s best to deal with the particulars before it the time comes to make it easier to step into.
Conversations with parents includes their financial health, getting their estate in order should they become incapacitated, and discussing living arrangements.
If you have siblings, plan to divide and conquer the individual tasks that accompany caring for an aging parent. Consider your strengths and weaknesses. Financial matters might be your brother’s forte, while you have the nurturing skills of a caregiver. You may have to split responsibilities depending on different job duties you and your siblings have. And, of course, you cannot neglect your own families.
So, educate yourselves on the choices you have and also look into your city or state’s Agency on Aging. This organization is a great tool to find out about in-home services, transportation, housing, and financial assistance if that is a factor. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging can help locate the office of aging in your area.
Take stock of the financial situation
Financial talks include a review of retirement funds, Social Security, Medicare, and budgeting daily expenses on a fixed income. This conversation may be uncomfortable, but it’s critical to ensure financial security throughout their later years.
It’s important to note that family caregivers dealing with the parent’s finances should also watch their own. It’s easy for the adult child to go through their own savings or suffer loss of earnings while caring for a parent.
Discuss living arrangements
In the event your parents need part or full-time care—do they desire to stay in their home or move into yours? Would they rather have in-home help from a third party with daily or evening tasks? And, are they mentally and financially prepared to move into an assisted living facility if that is necessary? They may have planned for this option financially, but if not, assisted living does not come cheap. You may have to move in with your parent or they may come live with you. And, these are hard questions best resolved sooner rather than later.
Caring for the caregiver
If your parents live with you or you become their primary caregiver, discuss your need of respite care. Caregiving can be challenging physically and emotionally. Whether a break comes from a sibling or an outside source, it is important for you to take care of yourself, as well. So, plan for someone to come sit with your parent to give you a break. The interaction with others will benefit your parent, as well, and can be critical for their emotional wellbeing.
In discussions with your parents, weigh the pros and cons, the “what-ifs” that may arise even if they are healthy today. The future promises nothing so the more you have mapped out before it happens, the better everyone will feel about the situation. Forming a plan, even a general one, before the time comes helps all parties (including your parents) feel respected and less stressful once the role shift begins.