Caring for our Parents
More than 22 million American households provide some level of support to a family member aged 50 or older – a 300 percent increase over the preceding decade. The time-consuming tasks, tough decisions, and arrangements for which typical caregivers are responsible can strain and drain the most loving of families, both emotionally and financially. I urge you to consider that if you have not prepared yourself for the demands of such a task, begin strategizing now. It can be a time of confusion and frustration.
Frequently, there is uncertainty as family members attempt to come to some sort of consensus regarding the care of a loved one. This is difficult enough when a parent is relatively good physical health, but even more difficult when the parent is in critical health. When there is “unfinished business” for adult children (feelings of invalidation, sibling rivalry, jealously, guilt, resentment, etc.), it may be difficult to maintain the patience needed to properly tend to an elderly parent. This may be especially true when feeling “sandwiched” between the needs of the parent and the needs of your spouse, partner, children, or work.
Those caring for someone with dementia are more likely than other caregivers to have less time for other family members or leisure activities. A recent article from Focus on the Family suggests that for many families, it seems one person does all the work and may feel tired, stressed, put-upon, and unappreciated (despite the fact that she/he is more than willing to care for her aging loved one). The other family members may feel left out, ignored, or guilty for not doing more. Some extended members prefer to stay out of the picture entirely, except to hear how their elder is doing. Whether you are a recent retiree wishing to ensure that you and your family enjoy peace of mind in your later years, or a grown child hoping to provide care for your parents, you should begin putting together a legal and financial plan that all family members can live with.
One of the most important preparations adult children can make is to create a binder containing all of the information and services that are available in the area for their parents. If an emergency arises, you will have a service or person with whom to connect.
Furthermore, if the children live close to the area, they should introduce themselves to their parent’s doctor and pharmacist. If they live far away, this can be accomplished through a letter. Children should ask their parents if they know what medications they are taking, when they are taken, and why they need to take them.
Before you can decide on any plan for your parent’s care, you’ll need to obtain important financial and legal documents. It is imperative that the family know what insurance/medical coverage exists. If a parent does not have a will or living trust, have an attorney prepare one as soon as possible. This must be executed by a legal professional who is familiar with specific laws applicable to the state where the loved one resides. Other legal concerns such as power of attorney and medical proxy should be discussed with the elderly loved and other family members.
Additionally, there are local support groups available that offer information, networking, and mutual support. The 28 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) help Texans aged 60 and older. Call them at 1-800-252-9240 to ask how they can help you or check out the website for Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services for more information at www.dads.state.tx.us/services/index.