Thursday, October 11, 2012

What to do about Mom and Dad

I was 50 when my youngest kid moved out. I retired immediately and headed off to Japan. I had married at eighteen and had my first child at nineteen. This was the very first time in my life that I would be on my own - responsible for no one but myself. What a wonderful experience!

Less than a year later, I realized that something was going on with my 69 year old mom. At first, it seemed that she was diabetic and couldn't figure out how she needed to eat to control her blood sugar level. My father had died six years earlier; my brother and sister lived far away and both worked. I packed up my stuff and moved back to the US. It looked like my new-found freedom was over in less than a year.

Mom had always told me that she didn't want to be a burden to any of her kids; she wanted to go to a nursing home or whatever. But when it came right down to it, I couldn't do that and she didn't really want it. Six months later, right after we'd bought a home together, we found out that it was really pancreatic cancer. In three more months, she would be gone.

The whole family came to visit - to spend time with Mom/Grandma/Great-Grandma one more time - while she could still enjoy it. She and I spent a lot of time going over paperwork, finances, and who got what. I took care of her, but she didn't really require much care until the last few days. Her doctor made sure she felt no pain, and then one morning, she just didn't wake up. Hospice asked why I hadn't called them for more help. The truth was, we didn't need them. Although it was a sad time for us, it wasn't horrible. It seemed like this was how it was supposed to happen - a natural part of life.

The Baby-Boomer (aka "Sandwich" Generation) Dilemma

Last year, the first of 77 million baby boomers began turning 65. Thanks to lack of planning and the economy, many people in our generation will never be able to really retire completely. But even those of us who scrimped and saved for retirement may still be in financial trouble if we had our savings invested in the stock market. Will quitting day ever really come?

And what is going on with "kids" these days? I'm talking about the ones that we sent off to college only to see them come back home after graduation. Why is it that so many of our grown children somehow can't seem to figure out how to make it on their own?  It is pretty hard to retire when your kids are a constant drain on your savings.

And just when it seems like you might be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you realize that Mom and Dad are suddenly seeming to age really quickly. You notice some memory problems. Or maybe it's an illness, or perhaps a car wreck. When you really think about it, you realize that this is something that has been going on for a while, but now it's at the point that something must be done.

Having "the Talk"

No, not the one about the birds and the bees. I mean the one about what's best for our parents. And I don't mean getting together with your siblings to make a decision. That would be very unfair to the people who spent twenty years of their lives taking care of you (assuming that you actually moved out when you should have.)

There are many different things that need to be discussed and many possible options to explore, though, so it would be best if you went into this conversation armed with some information about options.

Here are some things to think about:
  • Where will Mom and/or Dad live?
  • How will they pay for it?
  • What kind of insurance do they have? What will it cover?
  • Should Mom or Dad still be driving? For how long?
  • What medications are they taking? Do all of their doctors have the list?
  • Do they have a will or a trust? Where is it? Who is their lawyer?
Listen to what they say! What do they want? Don't dictate, ask! And never forget that you will be in their place in twenty years or so.

Independence is a Huge Issue!

Your parents have likely taken care of themselves for a very long time and probably have no desire to be shuffled off to a place where someone is telling them what to do and when to do it. AARP says that the current trend is for the elderly to age at home, and there is a really good chance that Mom or Dad want to stay right where they are. But what should you do if you believe they need some help, whether it's with cleaning, cooking, driving, or medications?

A good option here is to have someone visit your parents in their own home and supply whatever support they may need. Terry's dad is 90 and has macular degeneration to the point where he is almost blind. He knows his home well and the blindness has come on slowly. With daily phone calls and regular visits from family, and one day a week with his granddaughter to take him shopping and to doctor appointments, he is getting by just fine at home, right where he wants to be.

I know another lady in her 90s who moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. She doesn't really need much help but can't drive and shouldn't cook. The set-up of their house gives both Mom and my friends a lot of privacy, but they eat dinner together and someone is there if she needs help or just wants some company.

Even if there is no family nearby, Home Health Care can offer many options that may work for your parents. Mom or Dad can hire someone to come in during the day, once a week or even daily, to help with housework, cooking, or shopping. Need more help than that? Live-in help is another option. A companion can do wonders for the problem of loneliness. As needs increase, Skilled Medical Care can be added, and Mom and Dad can still stay in the home that they know and love.

Assisted Living is one step up the ladder. It will require your parents to move, but they may still be able to live in their own apartment or condo or even a single-family home. The residents still have lots of independence, but they have easy access to minor medical or custodial care, such as bathing, laundry, transportation and security.

For rehabilitation after illness or surgery, or even mental incapacity, Skilled Nursing may be the way to go. A nursing home is almost like hospital care, but designed to continue for a longer time.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community appears to have it all: independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care all at the same place. Mom or Dad don't have to move when care-needs increase  with illness or age. This is what my grandmother did when she was 95. She had her own apartment with her own furniture. They served meals in a dining room that got her out to socialize. As her needs changed, the level of her care did too.

Once diagnosed with a terminal illness, Hospice is available for end-of-life care. This help can take place in one's own home or in Hospice House. The goal of Hospice is to make sure that a person with a terminal illness is able to live out their final days with the best quality of life possible. A team made up of a physician, a nurse, a home health aide, a social worker, a chaplain, and a volunteer offer physical, emotional, social, and spiritual help. They can explain medication side effects, help make funeral arrangements, and even offer the regular care-giver an afternoon away from the house.

So Many Possibilities Out There

My parents retired in their mid-fifties. I was shocked when they decided to move into a retirement community! They were still young. Why in the world did they want to live with a bunch of old people? But that's what they wanted.

My best friend's mother lives at The Villages in Florida and she's having a good old time. She's 86, has a new boyfriend and they are planning a trip to Australia so she can meet his family. My friend talks about moving there someday herself, but that idea would give me nightmares! Maybe some day I'll feel like I'm old and ready to live with a bunch of old people, but that day is certainly a long way off.

If I had to go back to the states, I think I'd rather move back to Portland and rent an apartment right downtown - right in the midst of things. Stores and restaurants, the farmers' market and classes at the college, Saturday Market, and free public transportation. And all kinds of people, young and old, rich and poor, normal and weird!


1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about your mom. My mother died of pancreatic cancer as well, altho' she was in her 80s -- but our experience was like yours, it was sad but not horrible, and seemed like a natural part of life. Possibly it helps if it happens rather quickly? I dunno.

    Anyway, excellent wrap-up of this sometimes-difficult topic. We have several friends and family members who are going thru the same or similar issues.