When the Tables are Turned: Caring For Our Parents
The best thing you can do is to prepare in advance so you understand your parent’s wishes and are well-educated about community resources that can help you provide your parents with the best possible care. However, many adult children just aren’t prepared, have no idea where to start looking for help and maybe aren’t even exactly sure what kind of help they need. If you fall into that latter category, don’t worry. Take a deep breath, exhale and read on.
1. Identify your parent’s needs. Make a checklist of essential needs such as bathing, cooking, cleaning, errands, groceries, and companionship. Writing it all down and, if possible, getting input from your parent will help you determine what is crucial and what isn’t.
2. Accept and enlist help early on. Identify community resources (many are free or operate on a sliding scale) meet with siblings and/or other family members to determine who is going to do what; ask for help from neighbors, friends and extended family members. Don’t martyr yourself and make the mistake of trying to do it all. Ask for and ACCEPT help.
3. Important documents. Make sure your parent has an updated and valid Will, a durable power of attorney and advanced directives which include a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care.
4. Crucial paperwork. Gather important documents such as insurance policies; property tax receipts; federal and state tax returns from the past five years; a list detailing monthly bills; a list of debts, a list of your parent’s assets, real estate deeds. Don’t forget to get any and all internet passwords, online banking access codes and PIN numbers.
After you’ve gathered the necessary paperwork and identified your parent’s specific needs, the next step is figuring out where to find the help you need.
5. Geriatric Care Manager. If it’s in your budget, you might want to consider hiring a geriatric care manager to help assess your parent’s needs, identify services and even take over your parent’s care.
6. 211. Many states have established 211 phone numbers with operators trained to link callers to local social service agencies and community resources.
7. Long-term care ombudsman’s office. The LTC ombudsman’s office represents nursing home residents and their families in your state. This is a good source of information if your parent can no longer live independently and you’re considering nursing homes and alternative housing options.
8. Medicare’s web site and telephone hotline. Need help understanding Medicare coverage and benefits? Log onto www.medicare.gov or call 877.267.2323. This hotline can also provide valuable information about in-home care and housing.
9. Hospital’s social service department. If your parent has been hospitalized the hospital social worker can help you find in-home care, rehabilitation facilities, transportation and other services.
10. Disease Foundations. If you’re dealing with a specific disease such as Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, agencies such as the Alzheimer’s Association can provide information and referrals to best serve your needs. You can call the Alzheimer’s Association’s Helpline (800.272.3900) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
11. Area Agency on Aging. Find your local Area Agency on Aging or the equivalent (the names vary by state) by calling 800.677.1116 or by logging onto www.eldercare.gov. This is a great way to identify services, programs and housing options in your community.
12. Senior Centers and religious organizations. Both of these should be viewed as great resources. Don’t make the mistake of avoiding agencies with names like Jewish Family Services or Lutheran Social Services. You DO NOT have to be Jewish or Lutheran to use their services.
If the task that lies ahead seems daunting that’s only because it is. Not only can caring for a parent push you to your limits physically, it has the potential to awaken unresolved childhood issues that you thought had been put to bed long ago. But don’t worry, you can do it. And you just might be surprised when the most daunting challenge of your life turns out to be the most rewarding. Now, go forth and conquer!