Mom and dad did their part in raising you, the day may come when dementia strikes and it will be your turn to play caregiver.
Nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 care for aging parents and the percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the last 15 years, according to The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers: Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers caring for Their Parents.
When you decide to bring a parent into your home to help them transition through this stage of life, there are some real upsides. “To many seniors nothing is more important than maintaining their independence and proper home care lets them hang on to that all important sense of independence,” says Emma Dickison, president of Home Helpers, a senior care franchise that provides comprehensive home care services for seniors. “Familiarity with their surroundings – from the home itself to the neighborhood parks, stores and other amenities promotes better mental health and a general sense of well-being,” she adds.
But taking care of a parent with dementia at home is a responsibility that should not be taking lightly, cautions Peter Ross, co-founder of Senior Helpers, a provider of in-home care services for seniors. There are several types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's, several stages of dementia and a senior can have multiple dementias at once. The challenges don't stop there. Many homes have barriers that become increasingly relevant with age. For example, steps can be a major problem. To adult-proof your home so that it is senior-safe may require modifications that can be expensive, but it also involves being mindful of things like loose rugs, doors that can be opened easily allowing the parent to wander outside on their own and stoves that can be easily turned on. Know what you're getting into. Caregiving is a full time job. “Burnout often occurs if a person provides care in addition to working and parenting, and/or doesn't take time for himself. Family issues can arise if the primary caregiver feels others don't help enough,” points out Dickison.
If you decide to take on the challenge, a few things will keep you sane and increase the odds of a successful transition.
Before you begin a caregiving arrangement, assess the situation and understand the care that will be needed and how that care may change over time, says Dickison.
Gather and review legal and financial documents. Make sure documents are prepared and up to date, including wills, trusts, power of attorney and health care proxies.
Draft a budget and keep an expense diary. Track all your receipts and expenses, both for budgeting purposes and also in case any factor into your annual tax preparation.
Know your loved one's health status and medical history. This will help you be able to plan ahead and budget for care. Talk to your loved one early about this need. Ask for permission to have access to medical records and to be able to ask your loved one's physician about his or health status.
Don't ignore legal matters. Get legal consent as soon as possible, advises Ross Blair, CEO of www.PlanPrescriber.com, which offers comparison tools and educational materials about Medicare. Meeting with their doctors, discussing treatments, and doing all this without your loved one's consent could be putting you at risk. Have them sign a consent form so their doctor has the legal ability to discuss their needs with you. Consult with an attorney to see if your parent needs to grant you a “durable power of attorney” that includes the ability to make decisions relating to their health care. “Don't wait for a health crisis to make these types of decisions.”
Don't go it alone. “This is a big job. Decide what you can do and recruit relatives and friends to help,” says Dickison. Don't make all the decisions yourself. Include all affected family members and include your loved one.
There are many agencies that can provide caregivers for in-home care, full-time or in support of a family caregiver. Find out what's available. “Some wealth management firms offer daily money management as an option in a 'family office' suite of services. The firms make home visits to help with bill paying, filing medical claims and other recurring tasks. Carefully scrutinize anyone offering this service. Visit www.aadmm.com for the American Association of Daily Money Managers,” suggests Bill Losey, president of Bill Losey Retirement solutions, an investment advisory firm.
If possible, send your parent to an adult day care center. This will give them something to do during the day, force them to socialize with other people with similar problems, and make them feel productive, says Raphael Wald, a psychologist and neuropsychologist with Palm Beach Psychology Associates. “All this will decrease the likelihood of depression which is very common in people with dementia.”
Make sure too, that you have your own support system and leisure time. “The more agitated and 'burnt out' you become, the worse off your parent will be. You will be unable to care for a family member appropriately if you are not caring for yourself,” says Wald.
Be conscious of costs. Look into options for financial aid. People who provide unpaid care for a loved one may qualify for payments for their work. “It's not much, but if the person you're caring for is eligible for Medicaid, a program called 'Cash and Counseling' might be an option,” says Blair. Call Medicaid to find out. If you're caring for someone with long-term care insurance that includes home care coverage, their insurer may compensate you. Ask about this benefit and if there are any restrictions. There is a program for veterans called Aid and Attendance that is for veterans and their surviving spouses to help offset costs in-home and resident care, (www.veteranaid.org). Know what prescription drugs your loved on is on. Make a list of their drugs and always have it with you, include names, dosages and frequency. Once you've got a list, check on mail order pricing (there is a tool on eHealthInsurance.com that can help you do that). You can also use a prescription drug plan comparison tool each year during Medicare's annual enrollment period to compare prescription drug plans side-by-side and make sure you're getting the best price. Make sure you get all of your parent's Medicare benefits. Medicare offers benefits that many people don't know about such as contributions to home health care and supplies.
While there will be challenging days for sure, says Dickison, “Family caregivers often report the experience as rewarding, especially the bonding that occurs from spending time together.”