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“Elder Shock” Prepare to be Proactive

Like many Americans you may have moved away from home and family. The holidays may have brought you back, perhaps after the passage more time than you had planned upon. If you were fortunate, both Mom and Dad were there to greet you. However, given demographic reality, more likely than not, it was only Mom. If you were fortunate, all was as you remembered it. Mom greeted you well kempt and all of the holiday festivities progressed as they had in the past. With the exception of a political argument with your off beat cousin, the time was spent pleasantly and nothing seemed amiss.

While that may have been your experience, more often than not holiday reunions bring distant adult children face to face with their parent’s need for assistance with the chores of daily living. Mom may not have been dressed as neatly as remembered and the house may have shown signs of less than the rigorous cleanliness of the past. More troublesome may have been obvious memory lapses. Should these and related signs have been apparent to you, the trip home was surely worrisome. It is unfortunate that the vast majority of Americans do not anticipate the needs of their ageing parents, or the resources available to address those needs, until the effects of ageing bring them front and center. The trip home was no doubt accompanied by a flood of questions.

In the past the extended family was able to cope with the care of ageing parents.

However, with the dispersal of the family and two bread-winner families, familial care is frequently not an option. Despite this reality, questions and responsibility often arise when there are siblings. Who lives closer to Mom and can more conveniently look in on her?   Who has the time (and perhaps the financial resources) to look after Mom? Who is Mom more likely to listen to? Who wants to play the role of care giver? Resolution of these issues can create stress and have been known to create dissention between siblings.

Mom may not be able to remain in her home without personal care, or perhaps even medical care. What long term care options are available, would home care suffice, and for long? Is assisted living an option? What are the costs associated with such options? Are there reimbursement programs?

How is Mom coping financially? Dad left her fairly well off, but when the market tanked did she ever recover?   Mom has never discussed financial matters with her children, will she do so now? Is a power of attorney necessary? Did Mom and Dad engage in estate planning?   Is it too late to do so now?   Who now should attempt to approach her about these matters?

While Mom may still have many enjoyable years in her future, sooner or later you will be faced with end-of-life issues. Many Americans put off consideration of such difficult and for some even painful questions until critical decisions must be made. Often times Mom has lost her capacity to make these decisions on her own. How much better is it to discuss such fundamental life-altering matters while your parent can make his or her intentions known? There is no time soon enough to begin that discussion.   While introduction of the topic may be awkward, doing so early can avoid much emotional pain and even legal entanglements later on.

Being proactive rather than reactive is the most logical approach.   You need to avoid and emotional response, but rather make a plan that works for your loved ones.   Speak with your parents about their plans for the future. Have they considered extra assistance in the home, assisted living or even long term care? If not, assist in the process. Now is a good time to discuss finances, trusts, wills and advance directives. If this has not been done, assist them to find an elder attorney. Only then will you know their wishes and have reassured them that you will respect those wishes.

These are but a few of the many topics we hope to explore with our readers over the coming months.   These issues are important relationship matters that merit attention – even if the holiday visit was completely normal. If you don’t believe it, consider it; consider the adult child who receives a telephone call from some distant hospital advising that a parent has suffered a hip-fracturing fall, or worse, a serious stroke. Under such circumstances there is little time to reflect and give serious consideration of options. In fact, having delayed may have foreclosed otherwise attractive options.

As I said at the beginning, in the future we will be addressing a variety of elder care issues in this column and the proactive measures you can take. In the meantime, please offer suggestions for topics of concern to you, ask questions, or just say Hello. We can be reach at: alex@gatesmanor.com, lisa@gatesmanor.combarry@gatesmanor.com

Please remember to call Mom.