How to Prepare for the Future of Caring for Your Loved Ones

Most of us see our parents as the version of them that we grew up with: the strong, capable people who raised us and took care of us. When their health begins to decline and it comes time to offer them assistance, it can be heartbreaking. You and your family have to step up and find the proper way to provide your parent(s) the support they need to live out the remainder of their days in comfort.

“I’m a big believer that the expectation must be that everyone will one day be a caregiver — whether it be for your aging parents, a neighbor or a loved one,” says Dr. Alexis Abramson.

First thing’s first, you have to discuss your parent’s health and living situation with your spouse, your siblings, and later your children. Set up a specific time to discuss the topic, be it in-person or over the phone. Chances are, your parents have already expressed interesting in how they would like to live, but if they desire to live at home and can’t do so safely on their own any longer, you will have to decide what is best for their safety and mental health.

This could mean any number of living options. Discuss with your family whether or not your parent is well enough to have an in-home aid come in a handful of times a week to assess how your parent is doing, or if they would need 24-hour care. For some families, it may be enough for you and/or your siblings to check in on their parent in their home once a day.

If they are facing health challenges and can’t live independently, an assisted living facility might be a better option. They will have ‘round-the-clock care available to them all while living in a community of people just like them where there will be shared meals and events. If your parent is struggling with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, a memory care facility would be a good choice for them. A nursing home would be a better option for those who require a higher level of medical care.

A major question arises with all of these options: can you afford assisted care? This is a struggle for many middle-class families. The best way to find out if your parent is entitled to any Medicaid benefits is to speak with an elder law attorney. An elder law attorney can also work with your family on your parent’s will, their living will, and any trusts they may have/need.

Some decide to act as their parent’s primary caregiver by inviting them to stay in their home. This job is not for everyone. Caring for a loved one who is struggling physically and mentally can take a great toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health. Though it is usually cheaper than assisted living care, you still may have to sink money into your home to make it handicap-accessible and safe. Considerations for housing your parent in your home include whether or not you have enough space in your home, tripping hazards, stairs, and whether or not work will keep you from home for long periods of time.

It’s also best not only to consider what your parent needs presently, but what they will need in the coming years. It’s better not to move your loved one from facility to facility, as each move can be stressful. Consider how their health may be projected to decline, and if the living option you are considering will be able to support them in that time. All the while, don’t forget to keep your parent’s overall happiness in mind. Try to choose an option that will not only be best for their health, but for their happiness.

Regardless of what you choose, the transition may be difficult for your parent. Unless you arrange for an at-home aid, you will be removing them from the community they have garnered over however many years. Try to be emotionally sensitive to their needs and make sure they are in a place where they are able to make new connections.

As you do all this for your parents, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Many adults who care for their elderly parents report their own sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and failure to care for oneself when ill. Some truly believe they can’t give themselves the energy they need because it should all be directed to their parent, but consider this: if you aren’t as healthy as possible, you can’t care for your parent with the attention to detail you want to.

It is stressful on all involved to care for an elderly loved one. You must remember to be kind to yourself and to your family. Take the proper steps to manage your stress, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Even taking half an hour to yourself to exercise, read, or whatever you like every day will make a world of difference in your health.

Mark Shalloway is an elder and special needs care attorney in West Palm Beach, Florida.