Shana and I recently had a new client, “Jane,” that came to see us because she was concerned about her elderly parents. Both are in their 90s and although they are still living independently, she is noticing both a physical and cognitive decline in both. She described them as having “one foot on the banana peel,” recognizing that they are one fall or illness away from no longer being able to maintain their current lifestyle.
As with many of our clients, they are resistant to making any changes and she is worried about what will happen. Jane lives a distance from her parents, works full time, and has her own teenage children. She came to us for assistance in understanding what she can do to help them. Here are five suggestions we made for her:
1. Changes to Powers of Attorney and Health Care Proxy
Jane’s parents’ existing legal documents have each other as primary agents and neither is able to act in that capacity. Jane is handling their bill paying and taking them to MD appointments and it will be easier for her to continue this role with the appropriate legal documents naming her as the primary agent.
2. Financial Planning
Jane’s parents have limited liquid assets and own their home. Their monthly income does not cover their expenses, so they are drawing from those assets every month. This plan will not work long term if either needs to hire a caregiver to help them at home due to the high cost. We helped Jane to understand the realities of paying for care and the limited coverage of Medicare. We also explained the criteria for Medicaid eligibility, the application process and the problem with using Medicaid to pay for home care. We stressed the importance of Jane and her parents exploring alternative living situations that may better meet their needs while they still had funds and ensuring that they found a facility that would allow them to spend down to Medicaid when their funds are exhausted.
3. Home Evaluation
Jane’s parents live in a bi-level home with stairs to enter and Jane is very concerned about their safety. We recommended a home evaluation to determine what modifications can be done to the home to make it safer. These modifications can be simple such as a tub bench, so they don’t have to step over the tub to get into the shower or more complex such as a stairlift or emergency alert system.
4. Medication Management
Jane’s parents have multiple medical conditions and each takes many medications. They often forget to take their medications or take them incorrectly. This is a very serious issue and often leads to unnecessary hospitalization which can precipitate a downward spiral. We discussed a variety of options, including a visiting nurse and an automatic medication dispenser.
5. Take a Deep Breath
As with all our clients, Jane loves her parents and wants what is best for them. However, her vision of what is best for them doesn’t necessarily coincide with their vision. As a caregiver-child myself, I can very much relate to her frustration of having a clear idea of what will improve an elderly parent’s quality and/or quantity of life and having that parent refuse to make a change. Sometimes small changes are acceptable and they can make a difference and prolong stability. But very often the best we can do is to plan for the emergency and know we have done the best we can.
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