How to help parents age gracefully

Many of us are faced with making difficult decisions about our parents’ long-term care. Are you prepared?

When you’re a kid, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how family dynamics change over time. Mom and dad have always been there for you, right? Then one day you realize you’ve traded places. They’re not taking care of you. You’re taking care of them. It can become an overwhelming task.

In my family, there’s a lot of agonizing among my brother, sister and me on making sure she is in the right place with the right amount of care. As you navigate this family role reversal, the experts say it’s important to plan ahead.

Merrily Orsini is an elder care professional who specializes in caring for the elderly. She says the first thing you’ve got to figure out is when to step in. That means assessing your parent’s physical and mental health. Many times, the parent doesn’t see any reason for a child to “interfere,” which is why Orsini recommends relying on a professional to make an assessment and help develop a long-term plan that includes your parent’s wishes. That professional can be a counselor who works with older adults or someone from your parents’ circle of medical advisors or church community, as long as the professional has geriatric training.

A good plan may include:

  • Long-term care insurance 
  • A physician who specializes in geriatric medicine or has geriatric training 
  • Making sure you have appropriate legal documents in place 
  • Having a family conference to discuss your parents’ wishes, including living arrangements and priority of siblings in decision-making 
  • A visit to a geriatric evaluation clinic

According to Orsini, when it comes to making the decisions that will result in change, the biggest question is, “Do I stay at home with care or move elsewhere?” Both of these choices have several options based on the health of your loved one, cost and availability of family members to help, including:

  • A nursing home 
  • Assisted living facility or other congregate housing option 
  • Moving a parent into an adult child’s home 
  • Allowing the parent to remain at home while sharing the parent’s care among siblings or with the help of a professional

When it comes to finances, Orsini says it’s important to know about elder law. Working with the Medicare and Medicaid systems can be complicated. You can prevent a crisis by educating yourself ahead of time in order to make good, informed and mutually agreed upon decisions later.

So where can you go for help? Orsini suggests first getting a good evaluation of the ability of your parent to take care of him- or herself. A good place to start may be a national association of geriatric care managers called Aging Life Care Professionals.

Above all else, you have to respect your mom or dad’s wishes whenever possible. They’ve earned the right to be part of where and how their last years are spent. And there’s not a “one size fits all” when it comes to caring for parents. Each situation will differ based on health, stamina, interests, degree of frailty, family composition and availability to assist.

Just remember, have a plan in place before you’re in crisis mode.

Join us on Wednesday, March 30, for a discussion about creating a care plan for your parents before you need one. Amy Jo Condo, a busy mom and business owner, will share her challenging — and even humorous — experiences caring for her parents. Experts also will be on hand to answer your questions and connect you to important community resources, including Merrily Orsini, phamacist Kate Probst and Misty Clark Vantrease, an attorney with Kentucky Elder Law PLLC.

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