Caring for Elderly Parents
Becoming the caretaker for a parent represents a new chapter in the parent-child relationship. It can be a challenging transition for many people, especially if they are in the “sandwich generation,” simultaneously raising children and caring for an elderly parent. That’s why it’s important to talk with your parents about their wishes before you step into the caretaker role, even if it’s a difficult discussion. Having this conversation before your parent needs care will give them a sense of control over the situation and help them maintain their dignity as they age.
Here are some topics to discuss before your parent needs care to make this transition as smooth as possible for both parents and caregivers.
Any move from a home is significant and has many emotional considerations. That’s why it’s important to understand what is most important to both you and your parent. Given the wide range of available housing choices, take the time to think about, and financially prepare for, the housing option that is most appropriate for you and your family.
Consider the following needs when choosing a housing option:
- Level of care your parent needs
- Happiness and comfort
- Support for caregivers
- Neighborhood considerations
- Social support
- Location and weather
- Proximity to you or other family members
Fortunately, there is a wide range of housing options to consider as parents move through retirement.
Aging in place. This can be a great choice for retirees who are generally healthy, live in a home that’s accessible for their needs and can drive themselves or have access to transportation. While there are many benefits to this arrangement, it might require you to take a fresh look at their current housing. Additions such as handrails, no-slip floors and step-in showers might be necessary to continue living in their current home. According to AgingInPlace, an organization dedicated to empowering older adults to stay in their homes, these updates and upgrades could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000.
Moving in with a family member. If your parent doesn’t feel comfortable living independently, you might consider having them move in with you or another family member – a dynamic that has its own benefits but also challenges. Make sure you have space for your parent and can upgrade your home to meet any special needs. Consider the time and resources it will take to provide the necessary regular care for your parent, including activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing, and taking them to doctor appointments. Think about establishing support systems for yourself, either within the family or from outside sources, such as a home health aide. In 2021, the Genworth Cost of Care Survey found that in-home care monthly median costs range from $4,957 for homemaker services to $5,148 per month for a home health aide.
55+ independent living community. These communities offer independent, relatively maintenance-free living, often with services and amenities specific to the needs of engaged, older adults. The “age restriction” or “age target” is typically age 55 or older but might vary by community. These can be great choices for parents who are healthy and want a dynamic, like-minded community where they can enjoy their retirement years. The average monthly cost of an independent living community is $3,170, according to data compiled by A Place for Mom, an organization that helps families find senior living and home care options.
Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). A CCRC, or life care community, offers maintenance-free housing and a multi-dimensional lifestyle, along with a contract for care for healthcare services. This might be a good option for seniors who prefer to live independently in a community that offers the option to increase services as they age. According to Vi, which operates these kinds of communities across the United States, the average entrance fee for CCRCs is $300,000, with average monthly fees of $3,353.
Assisted living facility. These facilities provide a supported living environment, often in rental apartments, to older people who need assistance with the activities of daily living. They usually include communal dining facilities and special programming that keep seniors engaged in social life, which can make them an appealing option for aging parents. They also offer transportation to and from destinations like grocery stores, shopping malls and theaters to keep seniors engaged in the larger community. According to Genworth, these monthly costs will run about about $4,500.
Skilled nursing facility. These medical facilities offer full-time, on-site nurses and nurse practitioners, social workers, and dieticians. They’re an excellent choice for parents who need daily extensive care. Genworth estimates a semi-private room in a nursing home facility costs $7,908 per month and a private room costs $9,034 every month.
No matter which housing option you and your parent choose, it’s critical to assess the financial, family, lifestyle and healthcare considerations that will impact each living situation.
One of the most important considerations when caring for an aging parent is making sure they stay socially connected to other people.
Evidence reveals that social isolation hinders good health, especially for older adults. Being lonely can increase the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, stroke and can even make elderly people more prone to viral infections. Loneliness also negatively impacts mental health and is linked to increased anxiety, depression and cognitive decline. Keeping a positive attitude about getting older also has benefits: People with a positive outlook generally live longer and have better functional health than those with a negative outlook.
Think about how you can help your parent feel connected and useful in the world. Help them access transportation, either their own vehicle or public transportation, so they can attend social outings and stay connected with friends and family. And remember that communication is key. Make sure your parent has a cell phone they know how to use so they can stay in contact with the people who matter to them.
It can be hard to ask your parent to be transparent about their health needs, but it’s an important step in making sure you’re both prepared for the future. First, assess their current health needs, the care required to attend to those needs and any medications your parent must take. Then spend some time forecasting how those needs might change in the future, based on your family’s genetic predispositions, the progression of existing conditions and any related care.
Make sure you both know about their insurance coverage, as well as what Medicare does and doesn’t cover. Medicare is an enormously useful insurance program for retirees, but it is far from comprehensive in its coverage. Medicare consists of five major parts, and the coverage that’s free to everyone – Parts A and B – won’t cover all your parent's healthcare needs – notably long-term care – as they age. It’s important to have a plan in place to make sure your parent's healthcare needs are met.
If they have health risks, consider purchasing wearable technology that can alert you or emergency services if they fall or have a health event. It can also be helpful to develop a list of who to contact in case of an emergency. This should include your parent's primary care physician, dentist, specialists, mental healthcare professionals, and their preferred hospital and pharmacy. Your parent should also consider appointing a healthcare power of attorney, who can step in and make health decisions if they become incapacitated.
Engage your parent in a high-level conversation about their financial well-being, even if they’re reluctant to get into details. During this discussion, ask them if they have spoken with a financial advisor, who can help them (and you) manage their financial lives now and in the future.
During this conversation, you can find out if they’ve prepared for future healthcare costs and what existing debts they have, if any. Based on this information, you can help them assess whether they should keep working or go back to work as part of their financial plan. You could also recommend they appoint a power of attorney, who can make financial decisions if your parent is unable to do so.
Make sure you know all your parent’s important financial relationships and details, including the name and contact information for their financial advisor, bank account numbers and online banking login credentials, insurance agent and insurance policy details. It might also be a good idea to complete a Personal Information Guide, which gathers all of your parent’s personal and financial information into one document to reduce confusion and stress when your parent needs help.
This financial conversation should also extend to their estate planning needs, including any wills, trusts and end-of-life preferences. Make sure you know where these documents are located and what is in them.
However you decide to care for your aging parents, don’t avoid discussions around aging. Being prepared can mean the difference between enjoying time with your parents and losing sleep over what to do. And don’t forget about your own financial future as you think about retirement and beyond. Make sure you are prepared to help the next generation to better care for you as you age.
Just remember that you’re not in this alone. Talk to our office about how you can prepare to care for an aging parent.
The information reflected on this page are Baird expert opinions today and are subject to change. The information provided here has not taken into consideration the investment goals or needs of any specific investor and investors should not make any investment decisions based solely on this information. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. All investments have some level of risk, and investors have different time horizons, goals and risk tolerances, so speak to your Baird Financial Advisor before taking action.