Many Americans will step into the role of caregiver for an aging parent at some point in their lives. While it's a rewarding experience to care for those who cared for you, it requires a steep learning curve.
From understanding health and medical demands to facilitating residential and legal matters, the list of needs is eclectic. However, with the right resources, you can navigate the various demands.
Health and medical considerations
Maintain comprehensive medical records
It's likely that a decline in the health of your loved one — whether physical or cognitive — prompted you to step into the role of caregiver. Understanding what those changes are and how to navigate them is an essential checklist item.
As a result, keeping a detailed history and up-to-date records can help you boost the quality of medical care your aging parent receives. Whether daily at home, in emergency situations, or when visiting specialized centers, you and other healthcare providers can make more well-informed decisions when equipped with the right information.
Keep your records organized using a physical folder, digital file, or an app — just be sure they're easily accessible. You'll want to get copies of and keep current:
- Medical diagnoses
- Medication and treatment plans
- A history of medical events and past procedures
- Contact information for primary healthcare providers
Ensure advanced healthcare directives
Preparing for future health emergencies can be an uncomfortable topic, but it's a necessary discussion to have.
Advanced healthcare directives, like living wills and healthcare proxies, help take the guesswork — and stress — out of making decisions during challenging times. Instead, these legal documents outline and communicate the wishes of your aging parent should they be unable to express their preferences.
Review healthcare insurance coverage
Health insurance helps support your loved ones' needs and helps reduce financial burdens. Review health insurance policies to ensure adequate coverage for their unique needs. Check for any gaps in coverage and make necessary adjustments to provide the best healthcare support.
Also, consider and evaluate long-term care insurance, which can provide financial security if your aging parents require extended care. It’s best to explore this as early as possible — once a parent experiences a significant decline, they’ll likely be ineligible.
Safety and living arrangements
Evaluate home safety
Most homeowners, roughly 70%, want to remain living in their homes as long as possible. However, to keep your loved ones safe, comfortable, and independent at home, you’ll want to make changes.
Consider age-in-place remodeling that can meet present and anticipated needs. For example, you can install grab bars and handrails throughout the home for support. Or, you can consider accessibility upgrades, such as a home ramp or stairlift, if your parents require a wheelchair. It's best to walk through the home and assess what changes must happen to help them continue their daily activities.
Research in-home care services
If you notice they need extra support in completing daily tasks or will soon, it's best to explore in-home care services. In-home care services can offer your aging parents the comfort of aging in place while still receiving assistance. Research and select reputable senior care providers with services tailored to the needs of your loved ones.
Home health aide and homemaker services can be expensive, $54,080 - $56,160 a year, so it's best to plan ahead and explore financial assistance options. Depending on where you live, there may be local programs, such as California’s IHSS program, available to help you cover the costs.
Explore assisted living options
An assisted living community may become necessary as your aging parents' needs evolve. When it's no longer safe, or a parent requires more medical attention than you can provide, it's best to leverage professionals. You can explore different options, including skilled nursing homes, senior communities, and home health care.
Financial and legal matters
Create a power of attorney
Another way to prepare for the unexpected is by establishing a durable power of attorney. It permits you to handle financial and legal affairs on your parents' behalf. For example, POA allows you to pay their bills or sell real estate property on their behalf. By having access to your elderly parents accounts, you can keep their finances on track and act in their best interest if they can't do so.
Review and update estate planning documents
Estate planning ensures a smooth transition of assets and property, helping protect their wealth from being tied up in probate. Although it can be a difficult discussion, it's best to revisit wills, trusts, life insurance policies, and other estate-planning documents with your parents. When you do, be sure to collect and store copies.
Doing so can help ensure their wishes are understood and carried out. Additionally, it can allow you to connect with an attorney and understand the workings of what inheriting property or different assets looks like.
Assess their financial situation
If there were an aging parents' finances checklist, evaluating finances would be at the top of the list. Beyond wealth transfer, it's essential to understand what financial resources are at your disposal for their care. Take inventory of their accounts, assets, debts, and cash flow (like social security income) to ensure their lifestyles and choices are supported.
Caregiving may be rewarding, but it doesn't come cheap. It's unlikely that while saving for retirement, you accounted for supporting your older parents. As you determine what you need and begin navigating the various aspects of caring for aging parents, consider different funding options to cover the costs. If you're not prepared, you may quickly find yourself stretched thin and in a financially vulnerable spot.
Vet government programs, grant assistance, ask family members for support, or tap equity if you're a homeowner. Create a financial plan that ensures your parents receive the care they need without putting you in the red.
Caregiving and support
Seek caregiver support
Caring for an aging parent can be an emotionally and physically demanding journey — especially for those who are the sole or primary caretaker. So, in addition to caring for them, personal care also becomes a vital part of the experience.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of resources that can help ease the burden. Finding support groups, respite options, and a place to continue educating yourself as your parent's needs evolve is essential. A strong support network can help ensure their needs are met, and your well-being is protected.
Caring for aging parents is a rewarding but challenging experience. Responsibilities can vary drastically and evolve over time, making it a dynamic journey. However, with the right checklist in place, you can provide the best support for your loved ones.
It's best to start the conversation as early as possible, openly communicate with your parents, and involve them in decision-making. By addressing the aspects mentioned above, you can give your aging parents the care, respect, and dignity they deserve.