All about the challenges of Midlife Finance

Caring for Older Parents: Where to Start

My twenties-something daughters would be laughing at this article’s title. After all, they think that now this writer has reached her early fifties, she’s older. Downright elderly, in fact. (“One foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel,” as Husband puts it.)

Truth is that we could be around for another thirty years or so — easy. That means decades of living, part of it working, part of it retired. (And all of it pestering our daughters, and eventually — we hope — grandchildren.) But another part of that time means watching my own mother, now 75, have more health and mobility problems. She lives four or five states away, alone since my dad’s death more than three years ago. On a recent visit, I watched her walk painfully down a hill, and struggle to get into our car. And the thought occurred to me: We are going to have to make some decisions about long term care. Soon.

Sure, we can roll along the way we have been for years, and just deal with issues when they come. But wouldn’t it be better to start planning ahead?

First thing is, of course, what your parents want to do. (No doubt they’ve been thinking about this, too.) Are they planning to sell their house, or rent a smaller place than what they’re living in now? Would they prefer moving into a residential community, or staying on their own? You’ve got to know, in order to plan.

Next, if they live more than a few hours drive away — are they planning to move closer to you, or will you need to move closer to them? Or will you deal with issues long-distance? Another factor that plays a big part in decisions. (For us, there’s an additional issue: in the past, Mom, who lives in Michigan, has had trouble with our high-altitude home in Colorado. She’s been okay with it lately…but will that continue? Who knows.)

Finally, start researching what might work. If a nursing home looks likely for the future, start looking now. Where’s the best place? What does it offer for the money? (Brace yourself – it’s going to be expensive. Some of the very best also have long waiting lists.) Certainly you should look at this from multiple levels: your parent may only need meals and occasional help now, but the time could come that total care is necessary. Does the care facility provide those options?

(Before you go much further with this, if your parent is on Medicare, you’ll need to check whether the place you’re considering takes Medicare patients….or find a facility that does. Check here.)

Check references. Does this place have a good reputation? How long has it been in operation? The Our Parents website has reviews, including skilled nursing evaluations, for more than 100,000 nursing homes — check here.

One suggestion: look for a nonprofit. Making a large profit off their senior residents is less of a priority. AARP has a helpful list of additional tips. 

A growing option for seniors is home health care. Visiting nurses, as well as PTs and OTs (physical and occupational therapists), can not only do health checkups, but at-home therapy. (A friend, a licensed OT, drives to Cheyenne, WY two days a week to check on seniors — without her house calls, they might well need to live in a facility.) Combine this with someone who comes in regularly to clean house, fix some meals and keep your mom or dad company for a few hours…and  your parent might not need a residential facility, after all. (Not to mention it is wayyyy cheaper.)

So far, Mom can drive herself around for groceries and doctor visits. (A much-loved cousin also checks on her regularly, takes her out for meals and trips. God bless her.) What Mom doesn’t feel up to doing, she (or we) hire a cousin or two to come in and fix or clean. If she needs more help in the future, we’ve already talked about arranging for a cousin to clean and cook 2-3 days a week. This may work.

I remind myself that Mom took care of Little Brother and myself for decades, cheerfully. She loved us and made sure we had clean clothes and tasty food, warm beds and more.

Now it’s my turn to watch after her.

caring older parents


One Response to Caring for Older Parents: Where to Start

Leave a reply