Taking care when you’re not there
How do you take care of an aging parent when you are on the road?
America has a rapidly aging population. The most recent population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau show the number of Americans ages 65 and older will nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060.
A multigenerational combination of better science, preventative practices and improved living conditions began to extend life expectancy in the late 1960s and continues to do so. Not only are we living longer, but our parents, and possibly even their parents are experiencing longer lifespans.
Baby boomers (between ages 55 and 73 in 2019) are extending their work life past what has historically been considered retirement age. Longevity and financial necessity play into an equation that sometimes leaves boomers in the predicament of being unable to contribute unlimited time to aging family member’s much-needed care.
Let’s not overlook the sandwich generation (those in their 30s to 50s), who are supporting their children (or grandchildren) while also taking care of an elderly parent. These are complicated circumstances on their own, but throw being on the road into the mix and it may seem insurmountable.
If you find yourself in either of these situations, full disclosure: it’s certainly not going to be easy, but there are resources to help with eldercare.
In a lot of cases, finding those resources and most often, a way to pay for them, is the biggest part of the battle.
Planning is key, but it might not be possible if you’re neck-deep in making decisions about your parents’ care you never thought you’d have to make. However, using the experience as a roadmap to plan your own care is advisable.
At the very least, prepare your wills. A last will and testament distributes a person’s property after death. A living will details medical care a person wants while still alive but unable to explain their wishes.
A power of attorney/durable power of attorney allows you to appoint another person to make decisions on your behalf. These are generally broken into two separate distinctions – financial and medical.
Each state has their own rules governing power of attorney privileges, but in no state can a person who is incapacitated or cognitively impaired assign a power of attorney, making it an integral part of the living will process.
Don’t just prepare these documents and think you can lock them in a safe “until the time comes.” Understand and update all of them as circumstances change.
Quality-of-life and life-saving technology is developing faster than most people realize. Keep the law-language and specific references current to reflect what you’ve planned for in both your pre- and post-mortem situation. Estate planners recommend reassessing your wills every three to five years, or after any major life change.
There are attorneys who specialize in eldercare law and are trained to guide you through your state laws to best plan the living will portion of our wishes. It’s not cheap, and they’re not abundant in some geographical locations, but having a consultation might be money well-invested, depending on your needs.
If you’re suddenly thrust into the role of decision-making for a domestic partner, adult child or elderly parent, obtaining legal rights to do so is the first step.
Again, each state has their own process. Local attorneys specializing in family law should be able to navigate obtaining necessary authorization if it’s an emergency.
So what happens after the legal mumbo-jumbo is in order and you still feel lost?
Get help. Start hitting up the resources available.
Each state has its own eldercare resources and requirements for monetary contributions or co-payments.
There are also federal programs with resources.
Medicare is a federal program that provides health coverage if you are 65-plus or under 65 and have a disability, no matter your income. It does not provide for long-term care.
Medicaid is a state and federal program that provides health coverage for individuals with a very low income. These programs can be used in conjunction to provide an individual with health coverage, including long-term facility care.
Also remember that even if there is initially too much income to qualify for Medicaid, some states allow a “spend down” to become eligible for Medicaid. The “spend down” process allows medical expenses to be subtracted from existing income to become “medically needy.”
Best rule of thumb if you’re unsure what your relative is eligible for, apply for all of it. Of course, be prudent in doing so. Medicare/Medicaid fraud is as rampant as any other identification-based theft these days.
The National Association of Area Agencies is a 501(c)(3) membership association that has some of the most comprehensive, verified information about location-specific resources available.
People to help
Once you have located the resources and understand the level of need, how do you find people and places you trust in caring for your loved ones while you’re unable to?
The Better Business Bureau is still one of the more trusted indicators of consumer satisfaction, heath care included.
The state health department where you live should have detailed information about long-term healthcare facilities and home-health providers. Obviously, a red flag is being unable to find your provider on the register. Almost all insurance reimbursement or coverage for care requires providers to be licensed and/or registered.
Join support groups. You don’t have to be present to participate in an online or social media group – you can do this from the road.
No one can help you better than someone who has been through it. It’s absolutely amazing the amount of information shared within private groups that’s difficult to find in public searches. If nothing else, it’s always good to have a sounding board when you need one.
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. When people offer their help, give them very specific tasks. People who really want to help will appreciate very specific instructions like, “Go by to get Mom’s mail on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so she doesn’t have to walk down the driveway.”
That one set of instructions alleviates three days’ worth of worrying about Mom falling when she goes to get the mail. It also gives Mom a touchstone and live human being coming to see her on a regular basis. No one has to wonder if the mail is being retrieved, not to mention the satisfaction obtained from the helper in knowing they’ve helped in a very tangible way.
Church groups, professional organizations and community action committees are great places to seek assistance. Local libraries have an abundance of county-specific information and most cities have some form of Senior Resource Center at their Department of Family and Children’s Services.
Remember – none of this is easy. Being physically away from the situation doesn’t make it any easier. Caregiver fatigue is a real thing and you don’t have to be physically present every minute to experience it.
Take care of yourself so you can take better care of your family member. LL