By Steven R. Fleming

One of the realities of planning for or living in retirement is that one may wind up also caring for an aging parent or relative. A 2012 study by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed 43.5 million of adult family members are caring for someone more than 50 years of age. Of those, 14.9 million care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. This two-part series will include some suggestions about dealing with an aging relative.

My 90-year-old relative has been active, independent and relatively healthy, except for a couple of back injuries and illnesses, all her life. Her energy level had been astonishing. Many called her an “energizer bunny!” She had lived in the same home since 1960, raised her children there and enjoyed the companionship of my stepfather until his death in 1991. She then lived alone and was fiercely independent.

As time progressed, more assistance with household maintenance and chores was required. I saw her at least weekly, helping wherever I could. People were hired to mow the lawn and shovel snow. She continued to drive — just around town, mostly during the day — and be active in church, social groups and with friends.   She often helped older friends get around to the store or appointments.

New Year’s Day, she fell getting out of a car and fracturing her pelvis. Things changed rapidly. Decisions about care needed to be made in consultation with her doctors. A mountain of paperwork was filled out and signed. Although we had begun to discuss options when she could no longer live alone, we hadn’t gotten to specifics. We had not talked at all about a rehabilitation center or assisted living if something serious were to happen. Now I realize that these detailed conversations should have been held much earlier.

After her fall and a few days in the hospital, she went to a nearby rehabilitation center. She made good initial progress, but she was not strong enough to go back home. So she moved into assisted living, which included all meals, assistance with bathing, dressing and activities of daily living. The facility was bright, cheerful, beautifully decorated and housed only 16 residents, making it a place of true personal care. We were fortunate they had an opening.

Of course, the transition to assisted living was a challenge, even if only for a month or so. She continued to prefer her own home, which is not unusual. From both a safety and medical perspective, however, it didn’t make sense. The challenge during that time was to help her see the importance of the assisted living as a transitional phase in her recovery. It was no easy task! She continued to make progress, and the day did come when she faced the decision of whether going back to her home, or to seek a different “home” for the next chapter of her life. That’s when a whole new set of challenges arose, which I will relate in the next article.

So what does this story have to do with you? First, if you have an aging parent or relative, you need to be thinking about what you will do depending on their health. That discussion should occur while they are competent, even if you have to push. If the loved one won’t discuss this now, you need to begin do your own research and planning before that day comes.

Second, be sure you have the appropriate legal documents. Do you have power of attorney, not just for medical purposes, but for the range of other legal and financial matters you may have to deal with if incompetence is at issue? Be sure you know where financial resources are held (banks, brokers, trusts) so with a power of attorney, you can access those assets if necessary. Where are the Medicare, prescription drug plan, and Medicare supplement plan ID cards located? You will need these when dealing with any facility or provider.

Finally, be good to yourself in the process. Being a “parent” to an older relative is a strange place to be. Sometimes you have to take charge and say something or make decisions they don’t like. That can hurt, and if your family member wants to make life hard for you, the emotional price can be high. Find a local support group. Read up about being a caregiver. One highly recommended book is How to Care for Aging Parents, 3rd Edition: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues by Virginia Morris (2014).

What I decided is that I need to be able to sleep at night knowing I did the best to see my mother was safe and getting the care she needed. Whatever your situation, as you deal with aging family, do your best by them and take care of yourself as well.

Steven grew up in Maryland and has spent his life working with people in their life journeys.  For more information or free resources, go to www.SRFLifeRetirementCoach.com


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