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 to 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 unclear, legal documents are not always immediately honored, and options that were not anticipated become available.
The result is a lot of plate-spinning for caregivers who often shift from the role of “child” to “parent.” Respite care exists for a reason.
We thought our loved one was managing life better.
You must regularly visit and spend several days with someone to know how they are doing. Anyone, including your aging relative, can look competent in a half-hour phone call or zoom meeting.
When you 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 tend to “let things go” because they no longer see the value in ensuring the kitchen is always clean or that the mail is retrieved from the mailbox daily. There is an excellent gift in settling into life and relaxing, but this can also present safety and health hazards that your senior minimizes.
When “relaxing into life” crosses a safety/health threshold, this is the time to start making lifestyle changes so that they can continue to relax but not be a danger to themselves.
Planning for change would make change easier.
While this seems obvious, 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 already struggling physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically with all this change. The resistance sets in, making relationships and communication more difficult as well.
Estate planning would make managing finances seamless.
After getting their affairs in order, many expect managing finances to 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 healthy decisions, ensuring they eat, coordinating a move, and more.
So much of our lives are handled online these days, too. Where are the accounts? What are the passwords? If a process has yet to be implemented to maintain and pass along that information safely, this creates a huge bottleneck.
As our loved one’s mental capacity deteriorates, so do 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 manage well independently.
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 we have conversations, we have biases in our brains that often tell us what a parent is expressing matches what we think.
This is only sometimes true. “Quality of life” means one thing to one person and can be quite another to someone else. Using palliative care meds to ease the pain – how much and how often – can create rifts among caregivers because no one knows what mom or dad truly wants.
Pivots may need to happen around living situations, treatment options, 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, “Okay, this happened; I didn’t see it coming, and now what?”
Third, use high doses of patience, compassion, and forgiveness for yourself and your family.
Lastly, ask for help. You are unlikely to be the first to deal with whatever is before 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 guide medical and financial planning and 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.
Please reach out if you struggle to manage your care or care for an aging loved one.
About the Author:
Jessica Lanning JD, CFP® brings focus and perspective to your individual financial needs to identify your opportunities for investment and wealth. Regardless of what you’ve done before or what “mistakes” you think you’ve made, Jessica can help get you back on track quickly and safely. As a former practicing lawyer, she brings a comprehensive approach to legal, tax, and financial challenges so that her clients can enjoy peace of mind. A huge proponent of conscious decision-making, Jessica makes sure her clients are educated and informed so that they make sound decisions with clarity and confidence.
Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. The 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.