Americans are aging rapidly.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, “the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.”
If you have a parent who is nearing retirement or getting older in age, you might be feeling the approaching need to step into the role of caregiver.
Having tough conversations about living arrangements, making important financial and medical decisions, protecting personal information and nest eggs—these are all potential challenges you’ll encounter when your parents start getting older.
In this article, we’ll share tips and resources to help you help your parents live as comfortably and safely as possible during the final years of their lives.
Have a Conversation with Family Members
There may come a time when your parents need you to step into the role of caregiver or decision-maker for them, even if they aren’t willing to admit it themselves.
Transitioning into a role like this can be uncomfortable for a lot of adult children. You grow up being cared for and supported by your parents and suddenly the roles need to be reversed—it’s not something every parent or their child prepares for.
If you find yourself in a position where you need to take a more active role in the lives and wellbeing of your parents, the best first step to take is to have an open conversation with family members.
Depending on what your family looks like, this initial conversation may happen between you and your siblings, you and your spouse, or you, your spouse, your siblings, and your sibling’s spouses.
If your parents are willing and able to participate, they should also attend this meeting. The more involved your parents are throughout the process, the easier it will be when it comes time to help them make important decisions about their care, their finances, and their living situation.
The goal of this conversation is to speak openly about the immediate and long-term needs of your parents and how to approach getting them what they need as a group. Some parents, for example, may need financial support. Others may need medical care. Some may need a new living situation that better supports them.
By the end of the meeting, you should walk away with a detailed list of what your parent’s needs are. For example, do they need a better living situation? More medical support? Do they need someone to drive them to appointments? Do they need help managing their medication? Do they need help organizing their finances or setting up a will?
Once you have this list documented, you can start evaluating, prioritizing, and managing your parents’ needs.
Evaluate Immediate & Long-Term Needs
The needs of your parents will vary widely depending on their age, health, and financial situation. In an article on aging and parents, Dr. Leslie Kernisan, a practicing geriatrician with a special interest in family caregivers, identifies 9 different types of issues or needs that adult children may have to manage when caring for a parent:
1. Helping with daily living activities
2. Safety concerns
3. Medical and health issues
4. Legal and financial issues
5. Housing issues
6. Quality of life
7. End-of-life care and planning
8. Relationships and family dynamics
Read the full article from Dr. Kernisan to learn more about each item in the list.
As your parents age, it’s your responsibility to ensure that they have the resources and support needed to live safely and comfortably throughout the rest of their lives.
You can help your parents by communicating with your parents about their needs. Ask them to walk you through their day, or better yet, spend a day with them to learn about what their biggest needs might be.
You’ll likely find that some needs—such as advanced medical care—are more urgent and complex than others.
Work with your parents, your spouse, and/or your siblings to document needs and make a game plan for addressing each one.
It’s also important at this stage to evaluate and plan for your own needs as a caregiver and supporter. Taking care of aging parents can be an incredibly emotional, frustrating, and stressful experience. You may find that your parent or parents are resistant to change. They may not like the idea of moving or giving up certain aspects of independence. You may have to make tough decisions about how you support your parents financially, how close to them you live, and how much you can realistically care for them on your own. The more you can do to prepare for it, the better off you’ll be.
Include Your Parents in the Planning Process
Including your parents throughout the caregiving process is also important. Claire Berman, author of Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents, stresses that there is a fine line between trying to care for your parents and trying to control your parents.
In an article she published on Atlantic about what aging parents want from their children, Berman writes, “As parents get older, attempts to hold on to our independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned “suggestions” from our children. We want to be cared about but fear being cared for. Hence the push and pull when a well-meaning offspring steps onto our turf.”
Including your parents in care and planning processes can make adjustments that have to happen easier for everyone.
Your goal should be to communicate early and often, to listen to not just what your parents need but also what they want, and to position yourself as a partner in their planning process.
No one wants to lose full control of their lives. It’s your job to take the wants and needs of your parents into consideration and work with them to reach outcomes that keep them safe, comfortable, and happy.
Keep Their Home Updated & Safe
One of the easiest ways to take care of your aging parents is to make sure their home remains a safe and comfortable place to live. Maintaining a safe home environment might mean:
- Making repairs that they are no longer able to make themselves
- Ensuring that everything in their home remains up to code and above certain standards
- Adding grab bars in showers and bathtubs
- Making sure appliances are easily accessible
- Removing clutter from rooms and floors to reduce the risk of a fall
- Adding ramps to entryways or lift assists to indoor stairs
For more safety tips, take a look at this guide from AARP. It offers room-by-room safety recommendations meant to help keep aging parents safe in their own homes.
During this process, you may come to realize that your parents are not able to thrive while living completely alone in their house. If this is the case, it may be a good time to consider looking into professional care and senior living options for your parents.
Consider Professional Care & Living Options for Aging Adults
When it comes to seeking professional medical care or senior living for your aging parents, there are many options that are worth looking into and talking about together.
In an article on planning for your parent’s future, Aegis shares these options:
Assisted Living Apartment- This apartment option is meant for parents who still want independence, but can no longer live fully on their own.
Memory Care Facility- This assisted living option is meant for parents who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Nursing Home- This living and care option is meant for parents who need a high level of medical or professional care.
In-Home Care- This living option is meant for parents who still can and want to remain in their own home, but need someone to come by once a week to manage tasks.
Your Own Home- This living option is meant for parents who are able to move into the home of one of their children.
Making decisions about professional care and living arrangements isn’t always easy. It might take a lot of conversations before your parents feel good about a change that needs to be made. The best thing you can do is start talking about it early before you get into a situation where an urgent decision needs to be made before your parents have time to fully prepare or process a big change.
Help with Financial Planning
Being in a good financial situation can make all the difference when it comes time to retire. As an adult, you may decide to partner with your aging parents to ensure that they have the money and safety net needed to live comfortably through retirement.
Some aging adults find it difficult to effectively manage finances later in life. In those situations, it’s important to take the legal steps necessary to help them. An elder law attorney or financial planner can help you navigate through the complexities of programs like Medicaid and social security. They can also help give you the power to make financial decisions for your parents in the event that they can no longer make decisions by themselves.
If you’re not sure if your parents need financial help, look for these warning signs found in a comprehensive guide on how to manage your parents’ finances from MoneyGeek.com:
- Are your parents getting calls from creditors or new friends asking for loans?
- Are your parents still regularly opening their mail, especially mail from creditors?
- Do your parents know how much cash they have available?
- Are your parents making unusual purchases?
- Are they falling for telemarketer scams or mail giveaways?
These signs and others may give you the evidence and confidence you need to have the money conversation with your parents.
Reduce Risk of Identity Theft or Other Scams
Of all the age groups, seniors are most likely to be targeted by criminals seeking access to their personal information and money.
As your parents age, it’s your job to help them reduce the risk of identity theft, phishing attempts, and other scams that can wipe them of their financial security and peace of mind.
We have 3 articles that you can read through that will help you better understand how to protect your parents from criminals and threats:
- Phishing: What is It, How to Recognize it, How to Protect Yourself: In this article, we’ll help you understand what phishing is and how to recognize a true phishing attempt. We’ll also shed insight on what type of information criminals are trying to steal from you, give you recommendations on how to protect yourself, and tell you what to do if you think you’ve become the victim of a phishing crime.
- Social Security Fraud: What is It And How Do You Protect Yourself?: In this article, we’ll help you understand the basics of social security fraud. We’ll share the most common types of social security scams to watch out for, give you tips on how to recognize and protect yourself from fraud and provide you with resources that you can turn to if you fall victim to social security fraud.
- How to Protect Your Aging Parents from Cyber Criminals: In this article, we’ll tell you why aging adults are ideal targets for cybercriminals, what the most common threats are that you need to look out for, how to educate yourself and your parents, and how to protect senior parents in your family from becoming a victim of a cybercrime.
The more educated you are on the ways criminals try to target and victimize aging seniors, the more likely you will be able to protect your parents as they age.
Give Time and Attention to Your Own Health
To effectively care for your parents, you have to care for yourself first. It can be tempting to put all your time and energy into solving urgent and high-priority problems for your parents, but you’ll find it difficult to do so if you’re not also willing to give time and attention to your own physical and mental health. Caring for parents can be an emotionally exhausting process.
Don’t ignore your emotions—address them and commit to taking care of yourself along with your parents.
Talk to other people who are in similar positions or who have gone through it before with their parents about your feelings and your anxiety throughout the process. If needed, consider working with a therapist who can help you understand and manage your emotions.
Give Your Parents the Respect They Deserve
Above all, treat your parents with the respect they deserve throughout the process. Your parents want to be treated like adults. They want to know that you care about them. They don’t want to feel like they are losing all control and have no more say in decisions that impact their life.
Remember who they are and what they’ve done for you when you were growing up. Think about how you’d like your children to approach topics when you get older and need care and support from them.
Treat your parents as human beings, show them your love and respect, and work together to reach outcomes that help everyone.