Caring for aging parents can be both purposeful and stressful. While you want to be there for your loved ones, many family caregivers can feel like they’re being robbed of their own life experiences. Sometimes, this can even cause ill will toward your parents and other siblings.
According to the National Alliance for Caregivers and AARP, there are 43.5 million people in the US that provided unpaid care in the last 12 months, and that still isn’t enough. With the aging Baby Boomer population (there are 10,000 people turning 65 every day in the US), the so-called “caregiver gap” is expected to continue widening.
At a macro-level the solutions to solving the caregiver gap and providing adequate care for the elderly are complex and there’s no silver bullet. However, on a micro-level, the following tips can help you care for your aging parents while lessening the emotional toll and inherent stress.
1. Explore community resources for seniors
Fortunately, most communities have a variety of free and private-pay resources that can ease the burden on caregivers.
For those who can afford private pay services, the following resources could be a huge help:
NON-MEDICAL HOME CARE
There are literally 1000s of different non-medical home care companies across the US, with some of the larger brands being Home Instead Senior Care, Comfort Keepers, and Visiting Angels. These companies provide a wide range of services to help their clients stay at home, including:
- Light housekeeping
- Medication reminders
- Meal prep
Most non-medical home care companies place a CNA in the home, and they can be scheduled for as many hours as are needed. Clients pay for non-medical home care services out of pocket, through Medicaid, or with certain long-term care insurance plans. Hourly rates different by area and company, but for private pay clients, you can expect to pay between $15-$35/hour.
Many seniors grow tired of cooking or struggle to prepare meals for themselves as they age. Fortunately, many communities have local meal services that can help.
For seniors not wanting to use Meals On Wheels (or those who don’t qualify), there are certainly other options:
- You can order meals online through companies like Bistro MD or Magic Kitchen, and they can be delivered in a cooler right to your front door fully cooked.
- You could hire a local personal chef to prepare customized meals in the home. Many personal chef services, Chefs For Seniors included, are surprisingly affordable and offer a higher level of customization for specific diets.
A community “Village” for seniors is a relatively new concept, but the Village to Village Network is picking up steam with new organizations opening almost every month. A Village is a local nonprofit run by members and paid staff, that provides a support system to enable seniors to age in place. These services include volunteers providing rides, access to community vendors (sometimes at discounted rates), and various social/educational events. Membership fees are usually very reasonable, ~$100-$500/year, especially considering the value of the services provided.
For families on a more fixed budget, there are also community resources like:
Almost every community has a local senior center that provides a wide-range of community services. There’s usually no cost to join, and it can be a great way for seniors living on their own to get out and socialize.
Here’s a list of the services offered by most senior centers:
- Congregate dining site for a noon meal during the week
- Educational classes
- Case management
- Caregiver support groups
- Health & wellness fairs
The local Aging and Disability Resource Center is often the first place caregivers go for transparent information on local resources for successful aging. Based on your unique situation, they can recommend local resources that can help your aging loved ones.
ADULT DAY CENTER
An adult day center is typically a non-residential facility that provides meals, activities, and supervision. They focus on serving people with certain chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, and can provide respite for family caregivers. Most adult day centers are run by hospitals or community nonprofits and are staffed by CNA’s, other medical personnel, and volunteers.
Is the most recognizable meal organization for seniors, with over 5000 independently run programs across the US. Their local volunteers will typically deliver a hot meal each day to qualifying participants. In order to qualify for Meals On Wheels in most communities, you’ll need to be deemed homebound and be below a certain income threshold.
2. Look into Medicaid and Medicare
Medicare and Medicaid are both government-sponsored programs designed to help cover healthcare costs. Since healthcare costs are a significant expense for most seniors, figuring out the role Medicare and Medicaid play in your aging parent’s care plan is essential.
Medicare is a federal program attached to Social Security. It is available to all U.S. citizens 65 years of age or older and it also covers people with certain disabilities. It is available regardless of income. The four-part program includes:
- Part A: Hospitalization coverage
- Part B: Medical insurance
- Part C: Privately purchased supplemental insurance that provides additional services and through which all Medicare services offered by Part A and Part B can be accessed
- Part D: Prescription drug coverage
Parts A and B are paid for by payroll taxes and deductions from Social Security income. Parts C and D are paid out-of-pocket by program participants. In 2006, prescription drug coverage (Part D) was added to the program to address the growing concern over skyrocketing drug costs.
Keep in mind that Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of a nursing home or services like non-medical home care.
Talk with your aging parents to find out what type of Medicare coverage they have (Medigap, Medicare Advantage, etc.).
Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps low-income individuals and families pay for the costs associated with medical and long-term care. The federal government funds up to 50% of the cost of each state's Medicaid program, with more affluent states receiving less funding than less affluent states. Because of this federal/state partnership, there are actually 50 different Medicaid programs, one for each state.
Unlike Medicare, which is available to everyone, Medicaid has strict eligibility requirements. The rules vary by state (beyond the basics set forth in the federal guidelines), but the program is designed to help the poor, so many states require Medicaid recipients to have no more than a few thousand dollars in liquid assets. There are also income restrictions. For a state-by-state breakdown of eligibility requirements see these websites Medicaid.gov and BenefitsCheckUp.org.
Medicaid is also often used to fund long-term care, which is not covered by Medicare or by most private health insurance policies. In fact, Medicaid is the nation's largest single source of long-term care funding.
3. Consider professional help
If you don’t live close to your aging parent(s) or have the means to afford additional help, you may want to bring in a professional. Hiring a geriatric care manager is basically like hiring a relative. They usually have a nursing or social work background and can provide a wide variety of services for families including bill paying, coordinating home services, and managing medical appointments. Their services can be especially helpful if family caregivers live far away. In terms of cost, most geriatric care managers charge $50-$200/hour, depending on the market and their level of experience.
To find licensed geriatric care managers in your area, visit aginglifecare.org.
Some communities also have case managers/social workers through the local senior center that can provide assistance at no cost. Oftentimes, there are income qualifications that must be met to receive their services.
4. Understand the cost of assisted living versus “aging in place”
According to a recent study done by the AARP, 95% of people over 75 say they want to remain in their homes as long as possible. However, for some situations that may not be possible.
Nationwide, the average monthly rate for a one-bedroom unit in an assisted living facility is $3600. For a full-care skilled nursing facility, the cost can increase exponentially ($6800/month on average). Here are some payment options for assisted living:
- Pay out of pocket (savings)
- Sell your parent’s home
- Veteran’s assistance
If your parents want to stay at home and the family has agreed that’s the best course of action, you’ll probably want to utilize a variety of in-home services like non-medical homecare and meal services to ease the caregiving burden. Having 24-hour in-home care may be more expensive than an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, but carefully planning the number of hours – maybe just having a caregiver do daily check-ins or overnights – can be a cost-saver. Non-medical home care hourly rates typically range from $15-$35/hour.
5. Hold a family meeting
When taking care of an elderly parent or another relative, family members need to work cooperatively. The more people participating in care, the less alone a caregiver feels in his/her role.
A decision must also be made about whether or not to include your aging parent(s) in the meeting. Family members usually do not want to be excluded from family events, and their preferences for care must be considered. However, if someone has dementia or another condition where he/she might misunderstand the purpose of the meeting, it might be appropriate to hold at least the first meeting without him/her present.
Communication is the key to working successfully with a group of people. If it's difficult for some family members to travel to the location of the meeting, technology can help: a conference call or the use of a speakerphone can make it easier for them to participate. A videotape or an audiotape of the meeting can also be sent out to all family members who are unable to attend. With the use of email, even those who are not nearby can also be kept up to date on how things are going.
You’ll also want to have a set agenda for the meeting, and send it out to family members ahead of time.
6. Divide responsibilities
One of the biggest causes of tension and resentment in families caring for an aging parent is one of the siblings shouldering most of the burden. Oftentimes, it’s the child that lives closest to the parent. To prevent an unfair division of responsibility, divide various tasks among those who are able to help. Having a spreadsheet with a list of responsibilities and the person responsible for each can help ensure fairness and hold everyone accountable.
7. Don’t hastily quit your job
Quitting your job to care for an aging parent is a huge decision and not something that should be taken lightly. Gaining time may be offset by the loss of income and affect your retirement plans. You also have to ask yourself: "How easy it would be to find another job if you had to in the future?"
Before taking this step, meet with a financial advisor to determine if it’s feasible to leave your job. You could also try negotiating for a remote work arrangement with your boss, so you don’t have to be in the office every day. This will free up more of your time and will allow you to keep that steady paycheck.
8. Take time for yourself
Family caregivers spend so much time and energy caring for loved ones they often forget to care for themselves. This can lead to more stress, burnout, and feelings of resentment. Simply put, if you don’t take care of yourself you’ll struggle to care for others.
With that in mind, here are some “happiness hacks” for caregivers:
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Take a vacation
- Hang out with a furry friend
9. Be mindful of financial scams
Unfortunately, financial scams targeted at the elderly are a growing industry. Here’s a list of the Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors – click HERE to view list.
Tips and considerations to prevent your aging parents from financial scams include:
- 90% of elder financial abuse is committed by family members. Tactics include a joint checking account and outright theft.
- Tell your parents to ignore calls to unknown numbers. If they’re still using a landline, make sure they have caller id.
- Shred all receipts with their credit card number or bank account info.
- Use direct deposit for checks to prevent them from being stolen in the mailbox.
- The IRS will never call you requesting payment, they always send a letter. If someone calls and says they’re from the IRS and require payment, tell your parents to hang up.
10. Make a budget
Before making a lifestyle decision with financial consequences, put together a comprehensive look at what you are spending on caregiving using a simple Excel spreadsheet or another budgeting tool. You can discuss this budget during a family meeting with siblings and your parents.
11. Do fun things with your parents too
One of the biggest mistakes caregivers can make is focusing too much on daily tasks and not enough time enjoying what could possibly be their last years with their loved one. Always make time for enjoyable activities with your aging parents.
Here are some examples of things you can do:
- Look at old photo albums
- Record them while they share memories and stories
- Go out to eat
- Craft together
- Go shopping