Can We Talk

After having experienced first-hand how hard it is to take care of a parent as they age I have a deeper level of appreciation and compassion to those I know who are living through it now.  It takes an extraordinary amount of patience, not to mention the physical, emotional, and sometimes financial aspects of taking care of your aging parent.  A parent who often times doesn’t remotely resemble who they once were.  Personally I think it’s harder than taking care of a child.

I found that as my parents aged their confident demeanors declined and they became more nervous and anxious and eventually fragile.  My mother used to say she went from having 10 kids to 10 bosses.   As the Matriarch of a very large family she did not appreciate going from the telling to the being told.  She was accustomed to running the show and calling the shots and did not appreciate the role reversal one bit but there was no other choice.   My dad predeceased her and she was still living in the big family home and even though she was the strongest women I ever knew she needed help as she aged.  She couldn’t do it alone.  Her idea of help was us, her ten kids whether we liked it or not or it was convenient or not.  She was not interested in outside help or assistance and she was not shy about expressing her feelings about it.

So what did we do?  We tried to make the house as safe as possible and had grab bars installed in all the bathrooms and eliminated as many trip hazards as possible.  Trying to convince her to move her bedroom downstairs or install a lift to get upstairs were not negotiable.  Each morning she would back herself down the stairs to get to the kitchen and then at some point during the day she would do the same to get down the cellar to do her laundry.   We worried about her falling and breaking a hip but you can only argue with your mother so much.   She wasn’t interested in meals on wheels, wearing a lifeline bracelet or having outside help come in so we all just did what we could for as long as we could. 

Eventually a fall did happen followed by a hospital stay.  She didn’t break anything but was diagnosed with pneumonia and early stages dementia.  At her demand we brought her home and worked around the clock with private care to fulfill her end of life wish which was to stay in her own home until the end.  I was glad that we were all able to do this for my mother but it was very stressful for all of us and it wasn’t cheap.   

So what did I learn from all this besides I don’t want to grow old!  Nobody wants to think about getting old and no longer being the master of your own destiny.  It is inevitable and the longer you live the more likely you are to need care.  So what do I suggest to all those that haven’t experienced this with their own parents yet?  Have the discussion NOW so you will know what their plans and expectations are.  There are more options and choices available than ever before but planning goes a long way towards a smoother transition for all involved.

It may not be an easy subject to bring up when your parents are in full control and do not need any assistance but it will help to know for your own planning purposes.  Especially if you are working full time, saving for your own retirement and paying college tuition and weren’t planning on leaving your job to provide care.    Do they have a plan or do they need a plan?  Ask what they will need from you.  Are you even in a position to help them?  Do they live nearby?  Are they going to stay in their own home, move in with you, downsize, move to senior housing or assisted living or perhaps a shared living arrangement with other seniors?  Do they have insurance coverage or monies set aside to pay for their care because Medicare does not pay for those types of services or are they relying on you.    What services are available in the community and what do they cost?  How willing are your parents to participate in various services and programs.

The toughest time to make decisions is when there is no time to plan and options are limited and you are in crisis mode.  It is also far easier to be your parents care manager than their caregiver but that won’t happen without knowing their plan or helping them develop one so you don’t get taken off course with your own plan.   Growing old can be a bag of tricks, don’t’ get caught holding the bag!