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Set up plan for care of aging parents


Question: I’m in my mid-50s, so I’m one of the millions of “boomers,” and now realize it’s time to confront the fiscal facts of caring for my parents. Please give me some tips and local resources to consider.

Answer: Maybe you’re not caring for elderly parents now. But you might be soon. Make a list of your questions and call the Pima Council on Aging to schedule a phone or face-to-face consultation with a caregiver specialist or an ombudsman in the elder rights and benefits department.

National surveys report that more than 40 percent of baby boomers who have a living parent are helping take care of them, with personal help, financial assistance or both.

Of those boomers who aren’t providing care for parents now, more than 35 percent think they will some day and about half say they’re concerned about their financial ability to do so.

Think you might be one of them? You might consider taking action now to prepare yourself, according to financial planners and experts in elder care.

This might sound a bit cold, but people need to ask themselves this: How much of a commitment am I willing – and able – to make to help my parents?

The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP are among the national family caregiver and aging issues resource groups that have estimated the number of adult children who are the typical family caregivers. More than 60 percent of people who voluntarily care for elderly people – usually their own relatives – are women.

And for a typical unpaid caregiver who has a regular job, the care required of an elderly relative forced her to cut the hours she works at the regular job by about 40 percent, shrinking her pay and benefits. Unpaid caregivers who contribute their own money spend an average of $2,400 a year on care, according to AARP.

During turbulent economic times, there is also the emerging factor of increased personal economic challenges that include diminished retirement assets, increasing the amount that adult children are paying out of pocket “to make up for the mistakes their parents made 20 years ago,” by not saving or investing aggressively, says elder rights and benefits assistance ombudsman Stew Grabel. “You have to decide: How much of my lifestyle do I potentially give up so my dad can lead the kind of life I think he should lead?”

Here are some issues and costs to consider:

• Communicate: Talk frankly with your parents about what kind of care they expect to have. Try to back into the conversation: “Say, Dad, we were doing our will the other day and wondered if you have all that taken care of?” Or: “We’re starting to plan our retirement. What are your plans if you start to develop some care needs?” said Suzy Bourque, a PCOA caregiver specialist. Obtain information about their income and assets so you can link them with publicly funded services for which they might qualify.

Try a family conference with all siblings, if there are others. It’s vital to get everyone on board, Bourque says, before a crisis arises.

Don’t promise parents you won’t put them in a nursing home or assisted living facility, elder care and long-term care specialists say. “Sometimes, it’s the only option,” Bourque said. “They might need more comprehensive care than you can offer and they might prefer to be in a facility rather than dependent on their children.”

• Consider remodeling: Whether your parents move into your house or stay in their own, you might need to adapt the living space.

• Do the later-life paperwork: Make sure your parents have given someone authority to make financial and medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. Your parents should have documents that you can find in an emergency: a durable power of attorney for finances and a power of attorney for health care.

Without them, you could be forced to go to court to have a parent declared incompetent, an expensive, invasive and painful process. Many couples grant power of attorney to each other. But your parents should also name a backup agent in case the other spouse dies or becomes incapacitated.

Grabel also suggests that if there is a specific elder law issue facing the family, consider meeting with a specialist from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, who provide affordable consultations by appointment at PCOA in Tucson. The nonprofit agency also offers free, monthly workshops about the Arizona Long Term Care System. or ALTCS. Call the PCOA Intake Help Line at 790-7262.

Today’s information is provided by Adina Wingate, PCOA’s public relations director. Visit online at www.pcoa.org.

Pima Council on Aging

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