As parents age, roles become reversed as their adult children become the caregivers. Sometimes, it’s just providing a quick ride to the store, the way your mother might have driven you before you had your license. Other times, you may find yourself changing the diapers of the person who once changed yours.
It may be heartening to learn, though, that in a national survey of caregivers, more than 80% said they found caregiving rewarding. That doesn’t mean it’s not difficult, particularly when you’re thrust into the role due to a crisis like a stroke or a fall in the home.
Here are some tips that may help you move past the chaos to find the reward.
1. Make a caregiving budget. Before making a lifestyle decision with financial consequences, put together a comprehensive look at what you are spending on caregiving. Make a companion list of your parent’s resources and how they might be better used to support caregiving activities.
2. Explore free or low-cost public benefits. Several websites can provide help in identifying and getting help with caregiving tasks. Check out the government’s eldercare locator. The National Council on Aging operates a benefits checklist service, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has extensive information on caregiving help, plus an online locator to a local office in your area.
3. Learn about Medicare and Medicaid. Think Medicare covers nursing-home stays? It does not? Medicaid does, but only people who have exhausted most of their assets qualify for Medicaid-paid nursing home benefits. What kind of Medicare coverage does your parent have? Do they also have a Medigap or Medicare Advantage policy? A drug plan? What are the co-pays, out-of-pocket limits, and other financial aspects of their insurance? Check out MetLife’s own primer on Medicare and Medicaid.
4. Understand the costs of keeping your parent in their home. Most people want to grow older in their own home, surrounded by possessions and memories. How much will such “aging in place” cost, and can you find help? It may be time to take a detailed look at in-home and institutional care costs.
5. Consider professional help. If your parent’s needs are extensive and challenging, consider hiring a geriatric-care manager who can put together a care plan for you, and can often identify community resources to reduce your own expenses and time. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can explain professional standards and services, and also has a locator to help you find a professional nearby.
6. Watch out for financial scams. Financial abuse of the elderly has, sadly, become a growth industry during the nation’s tough economic times. Make sure your parents are protected from making hasty, poor, and expensive financial decisions.
7. Have “the conversation.” Make sure you understand what your parent want should you wind up with the legal power and responsibility to make decisions for them. This conversation may be uncomfortable for both of you, but it is essential. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a power of attorney, a living will, or a healthcare proxy—and few people do—find an eldercare expert or attorney to help.
8. Make your own retirement plan. How are you fixed for retirement? Will you be able to support yourself? How might your financial future be affected by taking care of a parent? Are there steps you need to take to deal with these implications?