Preparing to take care of your aging parents

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My parents were very independent and capable of taking care of themselves. Until one day, seemingly suddenly, they weren’t. My mom had some balance issues that resulted in two or three falls over about a year. The last one landed her in a nursing home, and doctors said she’d be there for a while, or forever.

This left my dad alone in their mobile home in a small, rural community in my hometown. He was able to get around pretty well and still drove his car. I was glad that he did (until I wasn’t, but that comes later). Public transportation is pretty scarce where they live and Uber was a concept far too foreign for him to grasp. (There’s a service called Go Go Grandparent that I wanted to check out, but we never got the chance to.)

I was 42 at the time, recently married, with a stepson in middle school. My parents’ home was a two-hour drive from my house, and I had just started a career as a real estate agent. Thankfully I was in charge of my schedule, but the frequent trips to help Dad took my focus off building a new career.

Surprisingly, I was completely unprepared for this day even though my parents were in their late seventies at the time. I had no plan. I did not research the issues I’d be facing as an elder caretaker. There were no conversations with my parents about their expectations for this stage of life. No real conversations, anyway. There were plenty that ended with my dad stubbornly saying they “weren’t going into any old folks home.”

The years of panic, frustration, and helplessness that soon became a way of life for me, could have been avoided or at least made a little easier with some planning. Here’s my advice on how to plan for taking care of your elderly parents.

Find an elder lawyer and (at minimum) get a power of attorney.

After Mom’s move to the nursing home, I knew he would need help with applying for medical assistance. I did not know that he was going to need help with paying his bills, renewing insurance, paying real estate taxes, and making doctor’s appointments. Needing his verbal authorization every time I made a call on his behalf soon became difficult if not impossible. It was time to seek out a lawyer for a power of attorney.

You’ll want to search for elder lawyers or estate planning lawyers. I was lucky enough to find a fantastic one, who went out of his way to accommodate my family.

Know their basic financial information and where important documents are kept.

Make a list of what money comes in (and from where) and what money goes out (and to whom). Be sure you know where to find important documents like deeds, titles, and insurance policies. My dad was pretty meticulous in his filing, so I knew where to find most documents. I didn’t realize his ability to keep up with new documents had declined, so I learned quickly that I had to take over his bills.

I recently discovered a service that I wish I knew about when I was making my weekly visits and praying he didn’t misplace important mail…a virtual mailbox. A virtual mailbox is a real street address and mail is received by a service who scans it and sends it to your virtual mailbox. It’s like an email inbox for mail. This would have saved me so much time and peace of mind! I recommend you look into it.

Research senior living options and costs.

My Dad was emphatic about not considering any senior living options. He was convinced they couldn’t afford it, and truth is, they couldn’t afford much. As I watched his ability to provide a good quality of life for himself decline, I knew I had to figure something out.

Research a few options in your area, and go for a tour to discuss real numbers. Don’t let the advertised prices scare you. Of course, if it is far out of your price range it’s not worth looking into. But if it’s close, have a discussion with their admission team to determine if your elderly parents are entitled to any benefits or discounts you aren’t aware of.

A great resource to help with this is A Place For Mom. They’re a free service senior care referral service and they can do a lot of the research for you. My representative was the most caring, compassionate man. I felt so alone in the process sometimes that it was just comforting to hear his reassuring voice.

Prepare a list of service providers.

You can find most of these through a quick Google search, but know that you will be needing the services of the following:

  • Lawn service
  • Snow removal
  • Realtor
  • Car repair
  • Cleaning service
  • Junk removal
  • Movers
  • Senior Care Services ( we used Home Instead)

I highly recommend senior care services, especially if you don’t live near your elderly parents. A caregiver visited my dad twice a week. At first, he complained about it. But soon, he looked forward to her visits. I had peace of mind that someone was checking on him, and she would help with chores and errands too.

Discuss with parents before the time comes.

If you can have some discussion about these challenges before they slam you in the face, it would be helpful. My parents didn’t want to hear it, and I’m sure that made the process more difficult. They likely needed help for some time, but didn’t realize it or were too proud to ask. By the time these things were happening, my dad’s ability to process information had deteriorated. The burden fell on me to make decisions for him.

No one wants to think about the days when our loved ones need help making decisions. All the same, having a plan can help make the process easier for everyone.

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Written by

Freelance writer who loves to write about personal growth, family, and just about anything. Retired Army Veteran, wife and stepmom, pet mama to two rescue dogs.

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