This was the year that my mother gave up her independence and decided now was the time to get help. She let her children fix up and sell her home. Her decision was a long time coming but accelerated after a few too many falls in her home. My father passed away over 20 years ago, and my mother had likely wanted to die in the home that they lived in. Instead, Eunice Black, at the age of 78, chose to enter into a senior assisted living facility.
That decision set off a chain of actions and reactions. Most of her children were happy knowing that she would be in a safer environment, while others of us worked through a process that involved delicate steps so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings. The process included fixing up her home, finding a facility, selling the home, saying goodbye to the home and moving Mom into a new lifestyle. The facility is not cheap at roughly $6,400 a month, but it does include room, food and medicines. That is roughly $75,000 per year, and neither Social Security nor Medicaid covers it.
I like to start at the end of a story so as to show you where we are going. Over the past 20-plus years, I learned a lot about parental health care and experienced a lot in the process.
Thanks to healthier lifestyles and advances in medicine, there are more Americans over the age of 65 than ever. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents will be age 65 and over, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970. Hitting that age is likely when many of us will start to slip in our health. I wish I knew then what I know now about dealing with an aging parent and family members. As our nation ages, many of us are now turning our attention to starting to care for aging parents.
For many people, one of the most difficult conversations to have involves talking with an aging parent about extended medical care. My mom took care of me when I was sick and needed help, and it became necessary that her children do the same for her. The shifting of roles can be challenging, and emotions often prevent important information from being exchanged and critical decisions from being made. My mother had two strokes 15 years ago and has needed help since then. My mother has a lot of pride and did not want to be a burden, nor be seen as weak.
When talking to a parent about future care, it’s best to have a strategy for structuring the conversation. I had no clue how many or how often she needed medications. For that matter, I really didn’t know a lot of details that would be important to know when providing help. This is what you need to start with long before the assisted living facility will come into play. Here are some key concepts to consider, and please note this is super dry information.
Knowing ahead of time the information you need to find out may help keep the conversation on track. Here is a checklist that can be a good starting point:
It is also important to know the location of medical and estate management paperwork, including:
“The transition from provider to dependent is likely difficult for any parent.” Tweet
Remember that if you can collect all the critical information, you may be able to save your family time and avoid future emotional discussions. Keep in mind that as we age it is tougher and tougher to organize, let alone read, this kind of information. While checklists and scripts may help prepare you, remember that this conversation could signal a major change in your parent’s life. The transition from provider to dependent is likely difficult for any parent and unearths old issues and thus lots of drama. Be prepared for emotions and the unexpected. Be kind, but do your best to get all the information you need.
This conversation is probably not the only one you will have with your parent about their future health care needs. It may be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue. Consider involving other siblings in the discussions. Often one sibling takes a lead role when caring for parents, but all family members should be honest about their feelings, situations and needs. I have one brother who wanted to hang onto Mom’s house, as he likely wanted to move his family into it. The other five siblings vetoed the idea as “not practical,” and it never got more emotional than that.
The earlier you can begin to communicate about important issues, the more likely you will be to have all the information you need when a crisis arises. How will you know when a parent needs your help? Look for indicators like fluctuations in weight, failure to take medication, new health concerns, and diminished or odd social interaction. These can all be warning signs that additional care may soon become necessary. Twenty years ago, my mother abandoned her car 20 miles from home and then walked 5 miles until police finally noticed she looked deranged. She was dehydrated and off her medications. Don’t avoid the topic of care just because you are uncomfortable. Chances are that waiting will only make you more so.
Remember, whatever your relationship with your parent has been, this new phase of life will present challenges for both of you. I promise that there will be frustration, but by treating your parent with love and respect, you will be able to provide the help needed during this new phase of life.