Parenting Our Parents

Many of us are at that point where just as our kids need us less, our parents need us more. We have moved away from the old “nuclear family” concept, when generations often lived together or near by. Now, juggling a job, home, kids, and parents becomes a tremendous exercise in stress.  MetLife estimates that 10 million adult children over age 50 now care for an aging parent.

It’s overwhelming just to think about it, let alone do it. The National Institute on Aging offers a free booklet, Twenty Questions and Answers About Long-Distance Caregiving  that helps caregivers deal with many of the issues that surround aging relatives – whether it’s helping them cope with declining physical abilities, to setting up a system for household finances. Another good source for some additional ideas on caregiving and older parents is this recent US News & World Report article.

Eldercare experts emphasize that it is important to know what your parent’s wishes are, should they become seriously ill or incapacitated. Make sure they have signed a healthcare proxy, naming you and/or your siblings as decision makers. Ideally, each parent should also have a living will, with copies given to each adult child, their lawyer, or other trusted third-party.

CAPS (Children of Aging Parents)  Cargiver’s Guide highlights many issues you need to be on top of  — from finances to housing — when caring for aging parents. Long distance caregiving is hard enough when you live across the country. It seems insurmountable if you live across an ocean, or two.

The US State Department has posted some tips for foreign service workers – many are applicable to any caregiver living stateside as well. Their advice includes potential danger signals to look for, like decline of personal habits, frequent mistakes taking medications, increase in personal injuries or car accidents —  these could signal cognitive decline, slowing reflexes, or deteriorating vision.

No matter how much you want to help, think through major lifestyle decisions, such as moving closer, having mom or dad live with you, or insisting that they move to a senior care facility. Decisions like these will inevitably have long-term repercussions and can lead to a permanent change in your relationships.

Average life expectancy in the US has jumped from 68.2 years in 1950 to 78.56 years today, and is anticipated to climb to nearly 84 years by 2050. Living longer has its upsides, but it also impacts the health, finances, lifestyle, and emotions of everyone involved. It might be time to look into a Long Term Care insurance policy for yourself, or for your parents if they are still young enough to qualify.

It it probably time to have “that conversation” with your family, if you haven’t yet done so. Decide among the siblings who will act as the primary caregiver. Talk openly and honestly with your parents or other aging relatives about their wishes and needs. If possible, get their permission to talk to their doctors. Put agreements in writing so everyone is clear about expectations.

As for me, I’m off to visit dad, for a “conversation.”