For many seniors who are losing independence, the dilemma of how to manage looms. Millions of people over the age of 65 have barely enough to take care of living expenses for a few years, much less for a long retirement. What happens when your aging parent is one of them and she shows signs of being unsafe in caring for herself? Aging takes its toll, physical and cognitive declines happen and change is needed. Adult children ask, “What can we do with Mom? She can’t stay where she is.”
Families are shocked when they explore options like assisted living or the hourly rate for full-time home care workers. The cost is prohibitive for many. Medicare covers none of it. No one wants to see an aging parent live in a dangerous situation. The best choice for some to take in the parent, making room and providing care within the family. Some even plan ahead for it and figure out where to put Mom or Dad in the house or in a constructed additional room ahead of time. This is by far the most cost effective choice available for long-term care for an aging parent. It’s not for everyone, as the effects on the household and all relationships in it are significant.
Bringing your aging loved one into your home can be a positive experience or not, depending on many variables. The personality of your aging parent is a major consideration. If you never got along well before your parent grew old and in need of help, you’re certainly not going to miraculously have a different kind of relationship in the parent’s later years. On the other hand, some families embrace being a multi-generation household and it works well for all, despite the extra burden of caregiving on the younger generation. Accommodating an aging person’s needs with patience and respect does not come easily to every adult child. (If you’re not patient, don’t do this.) For those who consider it an honor to care for an infirm loved one, caregiving can be satisfying.
When an aging parent develops dementia of any kind, the caregiving burden can quickly become overwhelming. Since we do not yet have a cure for this devastating disease, caregiving needs will inevitably increase over time. What starts out relatively easy can grow ever harder to the point that some families can no longer handle the demands of the caregiver role. The needy aging parent affects everyone in the home, the budget and the health of the primary caregiver.
If your own aging parent is in declining health and you are considering the choice to take in your loved one, be sure you think through the process from the beginning all the way to end of life. Here are some considerations:
1. Ask yourself whether you will be able to accommodate your parent’s personality traits, physical needs and mental/emotional changes of aging. It can get rough. Everyone ages differently and the path is unpredictable.
2. Plan and arrange for additional help as an elder’s need for care increases. Other family, friends, and volunteers in the community can supplement the work of the primary caregiver. Respite from day to day duties can protect the family caregiver’s health and sanity.
3. If an aging loved one runs out of money altogether, and ultimately needs 24/7 care, consider Medicaid and a nursing facility. Three shifts of workers can do more than one primary caregiver at home ever could. One need not feel guilty about it. No one plans to be totally dependent but it can happen. If this step becomes necessary, visit often and supplement what the facility can offer with what only family can do.
Every family with an aging parent needs to consider the choices available as the elder lives on, sometimes with multiple medical conditions. Here at AgingParents.com, we’ve seen the multi-generation household work well and we’ve seen it be a mistake from the outset. If you take in your parent with declining health and the means to provide paid help exists, bring in vetted, agency-employed caregivers to supplement your work. This seems to be the best arrangement from our observations of what families do to limit the overall stress factor. Above all, prepare for the journey with thoughtful planning in advance.