Many of us will come to a time when we find ourselves, in some capacity, providing care to an aging parent. The United States Census estimates that the number of Americans 65 years and older will double by 2050. Many of these Americans will require some form of care – anything from simple and regular checkups, to transportation and medical support, to more advanced live-in or long-term facility care.
It will not surprise those who are already caring for an aging parent that the process for establishing and maintaining care can be difficult. A 2015 joint research study between the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP said nearly 40% of family caregivers consider their caregiving situation to be highly stressful. The same study estimated that, on average, caregivers spend over 20 hours a week providing care. That number increases if the aging adult lives with the caregiver.
Considering various living situations can be overwhelming for everyone involved. Conversations about sensitive topics, such as wills and financials, can be especially tough. And all of this happens on top of the emotional experience of watching a parent or loved one age.
Here are five things you can do today that may help as you care for, or prepare to care for, an aging parent or loved one:
Create a caregiving plan. Without a plan, it’s easy for your parent or loved one’s day-to-day care needs to become overwhelming. Sometimes creating a simple caregiving plan can help with everyday logistics of caring for an aging parent or loved one. Assess primary areas of need like making home repairs, supervising benefits programs, or coordinating rides. Once primary areas of need are established, assign a point person from your extended family to be responsible for following up on each need item. To help with these day-to-day tasks, resources like www.eldercare.gov connect you with services for aging adults, like in home services, housing options, and transportation.
Know your care options. Eventually, you may have to hold conversations about where it makes most sense for your parent or loved one to age. Care needs can change suddenly, and it’s important to know what options are available, whether in-home care, assisted living, skilled nursing care, or other arrangements. Make sure you understand what long-term care services are covered under Medicare at https://www.medicare.gov/. For those who have parents or loved ones who were also Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides a guide to long term services and supports for veterans and their caregivers at www.va.gov/geriatrics/.
Understand what is covered. Figuring out how to finance care can be one of the most stressful decisions you make for your aging parent or loved one. Many people believe that the insurance their loved one currently has will also pay for long-term or assisted living care, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Most health insurance only covers long-term care if it is short-term and medically necessary. Make sure you understand what’s covered by your loved one’s health or disability insurance. Medicare.gov’s nursing home compare webpage connects you with area agencies and aging resource centers to help you understand the care options available to your loved one.
Have a plan for financial decisions. Sometimes children or family members of aging adults have to pitch in to ensure that loved ones have a secure financial future, whether it is paying bills or making financial decisions. Many people also find it difficult to discuss or manage someone else’s money. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends having a basic understanding of powers of attorney, court-appointed guardians, trustees, and government fiduciaries (Social Security representative payees and VA fiduciaries). For example, with a durable power of attorney, an aging adult can designate a family member as a financial proxy. The CFPB has a guide available at www.consumerfinance.gov with contact information and resources for those seeking legal assistance, accounting help, or family counseling.
Have legal documents ready. Having the right legal documents ready can help your parents or loved ones plan how they would like their affairs to be managed. The National Institute on the Aging recommends having the following documents ready. If your loved one already has these documents, make sure they are current:
- A living will allowing your parent to state the kind of healthcare they do or don’t want.
- An advance directive allowing your loved one to make arrangements for care if he or she becomes sick.
- A power of attorney allowing your parent to give someone else the authority to act on his or her behalf.
My office has created an Organizational Tool Kit to help aging Americans organize their important vital documents. You can download that document by visiting my website: www.forbes.house.gov or contact one of my district offices for copies.
If you aren’t currently caring for an aging parent or loved one, you may know someone who is. You may also know someone considering conversations with their loved ones about aging — please consider sharing these resources with them.
Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.