How to Care for an Aging Parent during These Tough Economic Times

For many, a peculiar role reversal happens when they hit middle age. Aside from the aching bones, lack of energy and planning for a much-needed retirement trip; many in their 40s, 50s and 60s are faced with caring for an aging parent. A recent MetLife survey found that nearly 10 million adults over 50 are emotionally and financially supporting an aging parent, a number that has steadily increased over the past 20 years. As an older or middle-aged adult yourself, you’re torn between providing an acceptable level of care while planning your own retirement or saving for your children’s future. With careful planning, it’s possible to care for an aging parent as the country continues to struggle through an economic downturn.

Sit Down for “The Talk”

As an adolescent, you probably dreaded the day you were embarrassingly forced to suffer through “the talk.” It’s now your turn to have a frank and open discussion with your parents, but this time about their finances and personal papers. Having an open and honest relationship with your parents helps, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be thrilled to discuss a normally taboo subject with their grown children. It’s crucial to sit your parents down and go over their monthly expenses, benefits and income. Inquire if they’ve considered long-term care insurance, or if they’ve spoken to their lender about a reverse mortgage.  Also, inquire about any important legal or financial documents necessary to prepare a will or trust, including bank statements, brokerage accounts and life insurance policies.

Keeping Your Parents at Home vs. a Nursing Home Environment

Despite the few minor inconveniences, you’ve decided to adopt the “it takes a village” philosophy by asking your aging parents to move in. Before you assume this is the most financially sound option, keep in mind the level of care your parents require and if they could receive stipends or benefits to help pay for a nursing home facility.  Your parent’s health might not be a factor now, but in a few years one or both could require a live-in nurse, and these professionals charge at least $20/hour. Aside from this, you must take in the emotional and logistical aspects of asking your children to share their home with their grandparents. Once again, it’s important to sit down with your parents and discuss their wishes, and speak to an attorney or Medicaid representative to learn about any assistance available to help cover the cost of in-home help or nursing home facilities.

Understand There Is Help Available

The Medicare and Medicaid landscape is forever evolving, and don’t assume that just because your parents are eligible for Medicare means they’re nursing home bills are paid for. In many cases, a parent must spend down the majority of their assets to become eligible for Medicaid, which then helps pay for the cost of private nurses or residential facilities. If you cannot completely count on Medicare or your parent’s savings, don’t hesitate to research community or state assistance programs designed to help individuals 65 and over. A great place to learn about the various income or age-based programs available is your county’s department of aging. For instance, your parents could be eligible to receive low-cost meals, help with their energy bills or a stipend to help cover the cost of prescriptions or other necessary medical equipment. There is plenty of help out there; you just have to convince your self-sufficient parents to look into it.

Learn About Long-Term Care Insurance

As a caregiver, it’s important to understand your limitations, and to realize there will come a day when you cannot physically, or financially, care for your parents. Instead of depleting you or your parent’s savings and investments, talk to them about speaking to reputable long term care insurance companies.  These policies pay for extended care in the unfortunate event your parents are no longer able to care for themselves. Several plans are affordable, and provide your parents with security, stability and most importantly, peace of mind going into the future.

The financial, physical and emotional stress of caring for a parent during any economic climate is too much for many to cope with. If you’re faced with supporting or assisting an aging parent, don’t hesitate to seek help for yourself as well. 

Betty Johnson is a licensed social worker and guest blogger. She’s currently revamping her county’s department on disability and aging in hopes of making more assistance readily available to her community’s senior members.