Planning for the aging of loved ones can be a challenging process. Here are some lessons learned from those who have been through it.
We thought we planned for everything
Many parents and children have had conversations about what the parents want to have happen and what they want their lives to look like as they age. However, there are always surprises.
Economic, health, and relationship issues may arise that were not anticipated. For example, a parent may rely on their partner for help, but their partner gets cancer, and they live far away from family and friends who can help.
Managing an aging loved one’s care – medicines, doctor visits, procedures, rehab, etc. – takes far more time, energy and resources than most people anticipate. Decisions are not clear-cut, the legal documents are not always immediately honored, options become available that were not anticipated.
The result is a lot of plate-spinning for caregivers who often find themselves shifting from the role of “child” to “parent.” Respite care exists for a reason.
We thought our loved one was managing life better
Unless you are making regular visits and spending at least several days with someone, you cannot really know how they are doing. Anyone, including your aging relative, can pull off looking competent in a half hour phone call or zoom meeting.
When you actually spend time with them, however, you get to see just how well they’re driving, how they’re maintaining their space, how much they are eating, what they are eating, whether they’re paying attention to locking doors, how well they can get around, how well they see and hear, whether they are taking their meds, if they turn the stove off, and this list goes on.
Seniors have a tendency to “let things go” because they no longer see the value in making sure the kitchen is clean all the time or that the mail is retrieved from the mailbox everyday. There is a great gift in settling into life and relaxing more, but this can also present safety and health hazards that your senior minimizes.
When “relaxing into life” crosses a safety/heath threshold, this is the time to start making lifestyle changes so that they can continue to relax but not be a danger to themselves.
We thought planning for change would make change easier
While this seems like an obvious observation, reality hits hard when the changes arrive.
For example, moving parents closer to help and having them give up the home they’ve lived in for a long time, accelerating the downsizing of their belongings, moving them away from friends and known surroundings, getting them to doctor’s appointments, having them hire additional help, and having them make health decisions are all changes that can be overwhelming.
This is particularly challenging for those who are already struggling physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically with all this change. The resistance sets in, making relationships and communication more difficult as well.
We thought the estate planning would make managing finances seamless
After getting their affairs in order, many people expect that managing finances would be easy. However, managing the affairs of aging loved ones is more than just signing documents.
It involves trips to the bank with the power of attorney document so that a child can take over the bank account on top of getting parents to appointments, helping them make health decisions, making sure they eat, coordinating a move, and more.
So much of our lives is handled online these days, too. Where are the accounts? What are the passwords? If a process has not been put into place to maintain and pass along that information safely, this creates a huge bottleneck.
As our loved one’s mental capacity deteriorates, so does their organizational skills and willingness to maintain good records. Caregivers land in the middle of that chaos, trying to reconcile and understand the state of their loved one’s finances.
It can be a lot to handle all at once.
We should have moved mom/dad sooner
Independent parents may want to live independently, and many will resist moving, especially if they are managing well on their own.
However, waiting until a health crisis presents itself may mean that much more has to happen on top of a potential relocation of parents.
Moving parents sooner means they would have one less change in their lives and one less thing to worry about when a health crisis arises.
Waiting until the last minute also eliminates options, and parents may have to move where there is space, with no site visits or interviewing of staff or residents.
We thought we understood their wishes and values
Even if you have conversations, we have biases in our own brains that often tell us that what a parent is expressing matches what we are thinking.
This is not always true. “Quality of life” means one thing to one person and can be quite another to someone else. The use of palliative care meds to ease pain – how much and how often – can create rifts among caregivers because no one knew what mom or dad truly wanted.
Pivots may need to happen around living situations, treatment options, the need for social interaction, the need to be with family, pain management, and more.
First, keep what-if conversations going. Use examples from other families, the news, etc. to open up those conversations.
Second, be prepared for pivots. This will reduce surprise, anxiety, and overwhelm. Say to yourself, “Okay, this happened, I didn’t see it coming, and now what?”
Third, use high doses of patience, compassion, and forgiveness for you and for your family members.
Lastly, ask for help. You are unlikely to be the first person to deal with whatever is in front of you. Lean on others for their guidance and knowledge.
Seeking professional help and support from caregivers or healthcare providers can also be beneficial in navigating the challenges of aging and caregiving. They can provide guidance on medical and financial planning, as well as emotional and social support.
It is important to prioritize self-care for both the caregiver and the aging loved one to maintain physical and emotional health during this process. Remember to take things one step at a time and be adaptable to change as it arises.
With patience, planning, and support, navigating the complexities of aging and caregiving can be a manageable process.
If you are struggling to manage your own care or the care of an aging loved one, please reach out.
Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.