Tips for Caring for Aging Loved Ones

“It takes a village,” is a common saying that refers to a community that cares for its people, in particular those in need. Today, as a large portion of the U.S. population grows older and life expectancy continues to increase, many caregivers in their 40s and 50s are finding themselves a part of the “sandwich” generation, or those who are often caring for both their children and their aging parents.

Today, more than 1 in 5 Americans (21.3%) are caregivers, having provided care to an adult or child with special needs at some time in the past 12 months. This totals an estimated 53.0 million adults in the United States, up from the estimated 43.5 million caregivers in 2015.[i]

Additionally, the U.S. Census estimates that the number of people age 65 and older will nearly double to 95 million by 2060.[ii] It is estimated in a study done by the Urban Institute that 70% of adults who survive to 65 will develop a need for long-term care and support services before they die.[iii] This need can be caused by accidents, sudden medical events like strokes, chronic illness or dementia.  In some cases, our loved ones may need help accomplishing daily tasks like eating, dressing, bathing, continence, transferring, etc. They may also need help with bill paying and making and following through on medical tasks like taking and refilling prescriptions and attending appointments and other recommended treatments.

All of this responsibility can present an unforeseen mental, physical, and even financial burden on caregivers, who are often still working full-time in addition to providing care for their loved ones.  Here are some tips to plan for the future care of loved ones, or if you’re currently providing care, some guidance on how to create a structure around responsibilities, which can sometimes be spread out amongst multiple family members and friends.

  1. Ask yourself: “What am I willing and able to do?” It’s important to be realistic about your current responsibilities and finances. What you might want to do for a loved one may not align completely with what you are able to do.
  2. Identify your support team. Do you have a group of people who can work together? Siblings or other family members? Even family friends or neighbors can be vital to the support of your loved one.
  3. Communicate with your immediate family. Discuss with your partner your caregiving desires to make sure you are on the same page. What does it mean to your family unit to take on the responsibility of your loved one? What does the future look like for you?
  4. Consider your long-term planning. In some instances with caring for a loved one who falls ill or needs significant care, you may need to take time away from work, which can lead to loss of income or a potential loss of medical benefits. Will this impact your retirement contributions or your overall retirement plan?
  5. Understand options with your employer. How flexible is your work schedule? Can taking time off to care for an aging loved fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act? (In Washington and California you may be entitled to wage replacement benefits under the Paid Family Leave laws). Give your employer as much heads up as possible to allow for planning.

What to do if a loved one resists care.

First of all, it’s important to take a step back and assess why a loved one might resist care. For aging parents of grown children, there may be a strain on the traditional parent/child relationship dynamic, or the concern that a parent may feel like a burden to their children. There may also be a sense of a loss of independence that causes an aging family member to resist help. In these instances, what can a caregiver do to alleviate the fears of their loved one?

In our experience, it starts with a conversation in whatever situation is the most comfortable for that person, and it often begins with questions, like:

  • “In what ways can I help you be safe, help around the house, take care of finances?”
  • “If I/we can’t do everything how would you prefer to get help?”
  • “I’m doing my estate or long term care plan. Who do you think would be a good successor for me?”  “Who would you want as your successor?” 
  • “If you wanted help making financial or medical decisions, who would you trust to do that?”

We can still honor our relationship dynamics while encouraging our loved ones to think about their future care. These can often be difficult conversations, but by asking caring questions, reflecting back what you hear, asking for advice on how to proceed and above all, understanding that emotions like anger, fear and sadness or natural and normal, you can show empathy and patience while also asking for answers to important questions about the future. Realistically, you may need to have these types of conversations multiple times before a loved one begins accepting the idea of care.

Getting Started on a Plan.

The first step to starting on a plan is to break the ice on conversations about care with your loved one. No one knows your family member like you do – consider which might be the best approach to having these talks where they feel safe and respected and their wishes are considered.

Then think about the type of care your loved one needs today and potentially what they might need tomorrow. Determine if you are in a position to provide that care, or if you need to enlist the aid of a “team” of support – perhaps siblings, family members or friends. Consider the strengths of the team; who might be able to provide day to day care for example, ensuring the house is kept up, groceries are purchased, medicine is taken, etc. Who might be best equipped to handle medical care and be a point person for medical professionals. And finally, who would be best suited to manage finances, if necessary, ensuring bills are paid?

Lastly, consider what documents you might need in place to execute on your plan.  This may include estate plans, wills, or a medical power of attorney and durable power of attorney for all financial matters. You may want to enlist help from other advisors (financial advisors, CPAs, estate planning attorneys) or to ensure correct documents are in place. 

While many of us find ourselves in a situation of caregiving after an emergency, we recommend having the conversation as soon as possible to avoid finding yourself in a stressful situation where you may have limited access to medical information or are financially stretched if you need to suddenly provide for a loved one. As always, the advisors at Private Ocean are available to discuss with you your options. You are not alone in this situation, and we welcome the opportunity to develop solutions that provide the most care for our loved ones while protecting your financial future.

[i] Caregiving in the U.S. 2020. The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP

[ii] The U.S. Joins Other Countries With Large Aging Populations, Census. Gov, March 13, 2018.

[iii] “What Is the Lifetime Risk of Needing and Receiving Long-Term Services and Supports?” Urban.org. June 24, 2021.

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