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Taking care of elderly parents? 5 tips for the sandwich generation

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 70% of people age 65 and older will require some form of long-term care in their lifetime.

The burden of caring for aging individuals often falls on their children, who in most cases are vastly unprepared for the financial and emotional burdens of being a caregiver.

A survey conducted by AgingCare.com, a forum to connect people with senior care and resources, found that 63% of caregivers have no plan to financially cover their parents’ care over the next five years.

When taking care of elderly parents — no matter how vibrant or disabled your mother or father is — there are many tasks that you must consider:

  • Estate planning — including will, living trust, power of attorney and beneficiary designations.
  • Long-term care insurance (if any)
  • Medicare, medicaid and any supplemental health and prescription insurance coverage
  • Finances: Retirement, brokerage, checking, savings accounts, life insurance, real estate, business holdings and any other assets.
  • Personal possessions. As you manage your parent’s later years, there will likely be questions about what will happen to their possessions, whether those of value, or heirlooms, including furniture and household furnishings, estate jewelry and watches.

If you're currently managing your aging parents' care or planning to care for elderly parents in the future, we put together some helpful advice and resources to help you through the process.

5 tips for managing your aging parents care: 

We reached out to real moms navigating their own aging loved ones’ care. This is their advice:

“Self care is key. Find something that is just for you. My grandmother is in a board and care with dementia, and I take care of all her stuff while caring for my 6-month-old and building a business. It's a lot, but that's what I have learned. Lean on your support system and find something just for you.” — Shennel

“I have learned to be more tolerant due to my fathers Alzheimer's. At the beginning, dealing with his symptoms was nerve wracking, but I learned that if I want to deal with this challenge and stay sane for the family, I needed to reset my mindset — tolerance to the moon and back. I started to teach my 4-year-old son that his granddaddy needs a little help. He tricks him into eating with eating contests, and he repeats all of the things my father must do if he forgets. We are facing a lot of challenges, but we take it step by step.” — Betka

My mother is currently navigating taking care of her mother who has dementia. She and her sisters rotate days staying overnight with my grandma and monitor cameras in her home when they can't be there. Unfortunately, my grandma is stubborn and doesn't realize how much help she needs and how much she forgets (including the last time she ate or showered), so they are navigating how to eventually get her into assisted living care. My advice would be to discuss elder care with your loved ones before you have to make difficult decisions they won't necessarily agree with.” — Leighann

Keep reading for five more tips for managing your aging parents' care:

1. Get on the same page as the other loved ones in the person’s life.

Whether it is your parent’s romantic partner, your siblings, your parent’s siblings or others who care most about your mom or dad, involve them in the process as much as makes sense. This takes the burden off of you both logistically and emotionally. Create a team on which you can rely for physical help, as well as to turn to when things get stressful or emotional.

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2. Caretaking for elderly parents creates friction in families — what to do when siblings don’t help.

Be proactive in seeking outside support to work through these differences when it comes to taking care of elderly parents. This might be a neutral, respected family friend, clergy person, or professional who specializes in senior care, who is familiar with this brand of family conflict.

Have an open conversation with your brother, sister or your parent’s spouse or significant other about the tasks that need to be done, the realities of the finances, as well as the limits of what you are willing to take on.

Be flexible about the tasks that each person is willing to contribute. For example, one child may feel comfortable with the hands-on caregiving, while another may be OK with running errands and assisting with appointments, while another may prefer to manage estate and financial matters. Accept that these are all important and valuable contributions.

If siblings and other family members are not as helpful as you’d hope they would be, find ways to let that anger go. Control what you can, which may be only the only productive reaction.

3. Never sacrifice your own financial stability when you take care of your parents.

The best gift you can give your children is financial security — both now and in your own later years. It helps no one to compromise your career, savings, investments or other assets when you take care of your parents in their old age.

Boundaries in all parts of your life are critical to caregiving — including understanding that each adult is responsible for their own financial wellbeing. In other words: If your parent does not have assets to afford the level of care that you would like to see them have, and you are not able to provide that kind of care without compromising your own financial future, then you must accept that.

7 ways single moms can get their financial act together — now and forever!

4. Involve your children in caring for their grandparents.

It can be easy to feel like you are compromising your kids’ care for the sake of your parent. This can be true, but it doesn’t always have to be. Let your children see you caring for their grandparent. Let that be an example to teach them about family, serving those who need it, being loving and caring. Even very young children can help their elders, through spending time with them, and household chores. Older children can sit with the older relative, run errands, and teenagers can drive them to appointments.

5. Seek out emotional support for yourself as a caregiver.

Group therapy with others in similar situations can be life-saving. If you have close friends nearby, make regular dates with them — even if you don’t discuss your family situation. Girls nights are therapy!

Take care of your own physical and mental health first. Caretaking for elderly parents is important, but you cannot be of service to others when your own cup is empty.

Taking care of elderly parents: Finding home care

There are two ways to hire a home care aide or care provider:

  1. Hire home care aid through an agency
  2. Hire home care directly.

Pros of hiring an in-home senior care placement agency

  • They do the work. The agency will screen candidates, do the paperwork, some basic training and cast a wide net to find qualified candidates.
  • If one hire falls through, or cannot make their shift, the agency will have backups.

Cons of hiring through an in-home senior care placement agency

  • More expensive
  • Can feel impersonal, since they select a handful of candidates for you to consider.
  • Can be inconsistent, as agencies sometimes rotate in aides, which can make it hard to maintain the quality of care and bond with the caregiver.
  • Not all rural areas are served by agencies.

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The other option is to hire in-home senior care directly. Some people find home care aides and providers through recommendations from friends. A popular way to search for help is using Care.com, the largest online marketplace for finding and managing care. Care.com has thousands of caregiver profiles in the United States, and around the world. Beyond its size, Care.com has a B rating from the Better Business Bureau and was founded by an awesome female CEO (which is important to me!).

Caregiver profiles include photos, reviews from past clients, education level, services offered and some limited verifications – you also have the option to request a background check on providers anytime as a Care.com Premium member.

Care.com is also a platform where you can find qualified nannies, babysitters, petsitters, housecleaners and more. Join Care.com free, or get 20% off premium memberships with coupon code JOINCARE20 now >>

You can also read our Care.com review.

Pros of directly hiring a private in-home senior care help

  • Less expensive.
  • You are in control by taking a third-party out of the equation
  • Ability to interview candidates directly, to see if there is a personal connection or preference

Cons of directly hiring a private in-home senior care help

  • Some people find it to be more work to find, vet and hire a care worker
  • No real recourse if someone doesn’t show up for work.

How to become a home health aide: 5 HHA training classes to get certified

Taking care of elderly parents: Costs

How much does senior care cost? Depends on where you live, and the type of care your loved one receives. According to the most recent Genworth Cost of Care Survey:

Type of elder careMedian monthly cost
In-home assistance$5,148
Assisted living $4,500
Nursing care with semi-private room$7,908
Nursing care with a private room$9,034

The national median rate for in-home care is about $27 per hour, or a median of $5,148 per month.

The average cost of living in a private, one-bedroom assisted living facility is $4,500 per month.

How to pay for senior home care

Depending on your income, there may be local services that can offer some of these services, and sometimes Medicaid covers the cost.  Here is a state-by-state guide to Medicaid home care benefits.

Most states have non-Medicaid programs to help seniors living at home.

Here is a state-by-state guide to home care financial assistance programs.

Reach out to specialized organizations, such as your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, your parent’s medical providers or local social services agencies to see about area resources.

The Department of Veteran Affairs has services for seniors, including help paying for and providing in-home care.

Here is a list of VA services for the elderly.

Other options for financing in-home senior care include:

How to sell your antique and estate jewelry

Taking care of elderly parents and managing the guilt and stress

Caring for an unwell loved one is a very stressful and emotionally complex time for anyone. You’ll be full of a lot of seemingly contradicting emotions throughout the process: love, guilt, anger, and confusion. The key is to accept all of your feelings as normal, human, and complicated. Just remember to breathe.

This post on Psychology Today gives a great script for children caring for their aging parents, who become so overwhelmed by the stress, guilt and dismay of being responsible for a toxic parents, they obsess over their wish the parent would die. This feeling is 100% normal, and OK.

The therapist in the post advises you tell your parent:

“You’re my mother and I’m always going to love you, for as long as you live and beyond, but if you continue to act as negatively as you are, I’m not going to like you. And if I don’t like you, I’m going to visit you less often and shorten the amount of time I spend with you at each visit.

What I will not do is let myself become so angry and so dislike you that I stop visiting all together. Before I do that I will shorten contact to minutes per week and check in more with the staff about you than visit with you.

I am asking for your help in making the best of the situation — being respectful and kindly toward others and showing the dignity that I know you are capable of.”

To manage the emotional part of this process, check out these books and resource links:

Join Care.com free, or get 20% off premium memberships with coupon code JOINCARE20 now >>

FAQs about taking care of elderly parents

These are some common questions about taking care of elderly parents:

What if your parents are stubborn or otherwise difficult?

If your parent is refusing help — whether from you, or professional care from a home aide or a live-in facility, try these approaches.

  • Don’t expect immediate results. If the first conversation about assisted living is rejected, plan to revisit the topic over several weeks or months, multiple times.
  • Recruit other activists. Maybe you are not the person to get through to your aging mom or dad. Another loved one, family friend, their physician, clergy leader or a professional like a home aide representative may be better at explaining the benefits of help.
  • Take a small first step. For example, even if you believe that full-time residential care is in order, a stubborn parent may be receptive to help in their own home several times per week. Once they see the benefits of accepting some care, they may be open to accepting more.
  • Be honest about how the situation affects you. Share how stressful, expensive and time consuming helping your parent is. Show that is is affecting your relationships, or financial security. Say: “I love you and worry about you so much, as does the rest of the family. Accepting help is really helping all of us.”
  • Know you are not alone. Caring for an aging loved one ranks as one of the most stressful, and common life experiences. Manage your own guilt by reaching out to others in similar situations, and speaking honestly about your own struggles with trusted friends and, if needed, a therapist. (Learn more about online therapy with licensed counselors — typically much more affordable than in-person, and very convenient with text, phone and video sessions.)

Start searching for affordable senior care today, join a support group through Care.com community and manage care in-platform. Create a free Care.com account and search caregivers in your area.

What to do when YOUR parents die?

Depending on what you, your child’s other parent, and your extended family decide, you may agree that your parents — your children’s grandparents — will assume guardianship in the event that you pass.

But, what happen in the even that your child’s grandmother and/or grandfather pass away? This can affect your own will and estate planning, but also brings up an overwhelming list of tasks you must take care of to manage their estate.

Here are some things to tackle if and when your own mother or father passes away:

  1. Talk about it. Have those difficult conversations with your child’s other parent or involve loved ones about guardianship plans.
  2. Update your own estate plan, including your will, guardianship planning for your children, and life insurance policies.
  3. Take care of yourself. Grief is real, normal — and potentially debilitating. Spend time with positive, understanding people, care for your physical health, seek support from a religious or spiritual leader, and don’t be afraid to invest in therapy. Online therapy sites like BetterHelp, with unlimited messaging and weekly live sessions starting at $65/week.
  4. Liquidate the estate. Perhaps you were left specific heirlooms like antique jewelry, gold coins, silver flatware or coins, furniture, dishes or real estate. More likely, you were left with a household full of items you do not want or need. Research your options for household items on EstateSales.net. You may decide that to hold a garage sale, haul everything to an auction house, or dump it at a local charity.
  5. Sell the jewelry. If you were left antique or vintage diamond engagement rings, gold wedding rings, tennis bracelets, earrings, necklaces, watches or other fine gemstones, you can sell it yourself online for a fair price, quickly. Worthy.com is a reputable online auction site, with an A+ rating with BBB rating, and hundreds of positive reviews. For lower-priced gold and diamond jewelry CashForGoldUSA has been found to pay 3X its competitors, has a BBB rating of A+ and pays within 24 hours.
  6. Invest an inheritance. If you or your child inherited any money from the estate, or any estate liquidation, be sure to invest that cash to build wealth — not just park it in a savings account.
  7. Plan for your own future. Chances are, your parent did not take all the necessary steps for making their passing, and post-passing as conflict- and hassle-free for their loved ones. Take steps now to create your own up-to-date estate plan, and research long-term-care insurance and planning.

What this single mom learned from caring for her dying parents

This is a guest post (edited for length) by single mom Cassi Upshaw, who lives in Gulf Shores, Ala., with her son. 

sandwich generation single mom

I cared for my mom for roughly seven years. She was on disability, from a kidney disease that was incurable. Over the years, it quickly went from her helping care for my son and helping me out as a single mom, to me caring for her, to my son even helping pick up the slack.

The biggest challenges were co-parenting while our roles were being reversed and I was more the parent, and she was more the child. Having to take her keys from her and set down ground rules was a very difficult task, as the illness progressed. I also had the challenge of being recently single, wanting to have a dating life, but moving back in with her because she had a larger house and financially it just made sense. The lines were blurred for a while about who was helping who. My desire to have my own life, but not to abandon her either, was a really hard thing to balance. As selfish as that sounds, a social life was something that I needed then more than ever.

For the last 10 months of my mom’s life, my dad stepped in and helped out, moving her into his home. While they were still married and had a perfectly fine relationship, they lived separately most of my adult life, and my mom always followed my son and me wherever we moved.

To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days

The last few months of her life were the hardest. Not being there daily, but knowing I had to be here for my son was a difficult thing to balance. To this day, I harbor the guilt of not being there in her last days, as she quickly progressed into the latter stages of life. Ultimately I know I made the right decision, I took care of her for as long as I possibly could, I asked for, and accepted help when it was available. At the end of the day, my responsibility was to take care of my son, and my dad was capable of taking care of my mother.

After her passing, my dad didn’t get sick, but he definitely began to show his age. For nearly the next year and a half, he became my person. My person to grieve with, complain with, and laugh with. He visited me at least one week every two months — sometimes one week every month. Our relationship had never been closer. For once, he was truly alone, and I tried to suffice as a companion in his life. He went through a rebellious stage, where he began drinking again and gambling, kind of like a young college kid trying to find his way through the ins and outs of the world.

If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would miss his crotchety old ass.

As the weeks went on, he made comments about not feeling well, looking back on it, I overlooked all the signs, and ultimately, I’m really glad I did. Rather than worrying every single day about his well-being, I learned to appreciate him for what he was that day. If he was ornery and spiteful, I kept my laughter to myself, knowing that one day I would look back on that, and miss his crotchety old ass… and if he was light on his feet, carefree, and almost irresponsible in a sense, I ate it up. I made him feel like there was no reason to think anything less. He opened up to me about not ever wanting another woman to marry, but having one to snuggle up to you every now and then wouldn’t be so bad.

The facade that I had grown up thinking he was so strong always, all disappeared. He became real to me. He became relatable. The last time he called was in the wee hours of the morning; he was at the casino, had entered some crazy drawing and was playing Texas hold’em. He left me a message, telling me that he had met up with some girls, the same ones he had spent the previous weekend getting to know and that he was having a great time. He went to bed at night and never woke up.

Alone might be where I’m at, but I can always depend on myself, and I won’t ever let me down.

The challenges I now face are not having someone to call when I have a question about parenting. No longer feeling like I have someone on my side, no matter what might happen. I realized, alone might be where I’m at, but I know I can always depend on myself, and I won’t ever let me down. 

I realized, despite being scared for 29 years, everyone still dies. My dad always used to say, “no one gets out of here alive.” There’s really no truer statement… So rather than being scared, now I’m living. At 30 years old, I’m living. I’m living my life the best that I can every single day. I’m being the best mom, the best employee, the best woman, the best everything I can.

We no longer have problems, but challenges.

We no longer have problems, but challenges, and it takes as much energy to bitch about one as it does to find a solution and pursue it. We will be here, and our parents won’t. So find your strength now. Love them for where they are in their life, wherever that might be at the moment. And learn to push forward, for your parents may have left you, but there is still a little someone looking up, depending on you to be the parent to them.

Bottom line: Come up with a plan for taking care of elderly parents sooner rather than later

If you delay or fail to make a plan for taking care of your elderly parents, you could be stuck making a quick decision that compromises their safety and wellbeing. 

According to the National Council on Aging, as many as 5 million older Americans are abused every year, and losses suffered by victims of financial abuse are estimated to be at least $36.5 billion annually. 

You can protect your elderly parents by making a plan now. Care.com can help you: 

  • Understand the type of care you need
  • Calculate average costs and types of services and facilities available in your area
  • Interview and hire the right care provider for you or your loved one

You can join Care.com for free today or get 20% off a premium membership with code JOINCARE20 >>

What if your parents are stubborn or otherwise difficult?

If the first conversation about assisted living is rejected, plan to revisit the topic over several weeks or months, multiple times.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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