Elder Law

How To Care for an Aging Parent

It can be difficult for adult children as they see their aging parents declining health. Children of older adults may need to balance their parent’s autonomy and knowing when it is time to step in and provide support. Aging parents may not ask for help or see they need a full-time caregiver. Families must communicate and plan for the eventualities of growing older. Caring for an aging parent may involve:

  • Knowing when a parent needs help
  • Talking with parents about their end-of-life wishes
  • Considering a nursing home
  • Patient care for chronic health conditions
  • Estate planning tools

When it is time to take steps to prepare for the needs of older people, an older adult law attorney can help ensure that legal protections are in place to protect your parents and their assets. Older adult law issues are different in every state. An older adult law attorney can provide legal advice for your situation.

Communicating With Older Parents

Adult children and their siblings may not live in the same town or state as their parents. When you are far away, it can be hard to communicate significant life changes with your parents. If your parent is not asking for help, it can be hard to know when it is time to step in. Regular phone calls can be an excellent way to check on older parents and see changes in their behavior or ability to complete activities of daily living.

When you visit with parents, you can look for warning signs that a parent needs help, including poor hygiene or housekeeping, confusion, failure to seek medical attention, mental health problems, hoarding, or fires or burning in the kitchen.

If you have concerns about your parent’s quality of life, you should voice them with your family member. Make sure you understand your parent’s wishes and do what you can to meet their needs. It is also an excellent time to prepare for when your parent needs to make important healthcare decisions.

Family members should be kept informed about the health conditions and well-being of older adults. This includes everything from seeking regular primary care to chronic conditions, including understanding Medicare and how to pay for care services for more senior patients.

When Is It Time to Consider a Nursing Home?

The decision to place a parent in a nursing home or long-term care facility is difficult. However, it may be the only option if relatives cannot provide care for their aging family members or if the parent needs full-time care under the supervision of healthcare providers. The older family member may not want to leave their own home.

Leaving their home and community can be difficult and disruptive for older parents, and intervention can be difficult for loved ones. According to the Administration for Community Living, it is a fundamental principle that older adults should be able to live where they choose. Unfortunately, that is not always possible.

Severe health conditions, like cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s, may require supervised care management around the clock. If your parent cannot perform activities of daily living, like eating, bathing, using a bathroom, dressing, and walking, it may require in-home health care or moving into a care facility.

If you need more information about housing options for older parents, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has an Eldercare Locator and information about long-term care.

Older Adult Care Planning Tools

Everyone should have certain basic estate planning tools, not just older adults. These estate planning arrangements include:

  • Power of attorney: A power of attorney appoints someone to act on your behalf if you lack the mental or physical capacity to make your own decisions. The law requires that the person you select as your power of attorney make decisions that are in your best interest. For example, if you are in an accident that leaves you unable to make your financial or business decisions, your power of attorney could do it for you. When you regain your mental capabilities, your decision-making power reverts to you.
  • Living will and advance directive: A living will provides specific directions to health care professionals about how you wish to manage your treatment if you can no longer communicate those wishes to them. A health care proxy appoints a person to make end-of-life care decisions if you cannot make them yourself. The person appointed as your health care proxy must act as they believe you would act if you were able to communicate your wishes. Without a power of attorney, living will, or health care proxy, all medical and financial decisions will be made by the person named by state statute, and your parent may not like or may not trust that person.
  • Estate planning: Trusts and wills help determine how financial assets and personal belongings are treated after death. Without an estate plan, your parents’ assets will be distributed according to your state’s intestate laws and not necessarily according to their own wishes. Probate can also be more costly and take more time than distributing assets outside of probate through a trust or other estate plan option.

Low-cost do-it-yourself (D.I.Y.) willsliving wills, and powers of attorney are possible in some simple cases and can be found on our companion site, FindLaw.com.

Resources for Family Members

There are online resources to help caregivers deal with the complex and emotional process of caring for an older parent. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has caregiver resources and long-term care links on its .gov website.

Your state may also provide local resources for in-home care and social support for family caregivers. For example, states like Massachusetts have a long-term care ombudsman to advocate for resolving problems for nursing home residents. Other state agencies can help family members with older relatives. For example, the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services offers services for seniors, family members, and caregivers.

At a minimum, it is essential for each of your parents to create a power of attorney, a living will, a health care proxy, and an estate plan that reflects their wishes. That way, your parents will remain in control of their care needs. If you need additional assistance caring for your aging parent, you can contact an older adult law attorney in your state.

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