caring parents

But They’re My Parents: A Guide to Caring For Aging Parents

Most of us reach a point in life when parents, elderly relatives, or friends begin to require more of our attention and time, and sometimes, our financial support as well. Caring for or helping manage the finances of an elder can be complicated, and few of us are trained for the many aspects of that care. That’s why it helps to have someone to turn to for answers — or for help with the questions you should be asking other professionals, such as legal, tax, insurance, or health care practitioners. Your investment professional can be that resource. With MFS Heritage Planning® materials such as this guidebook, a familiarity with your financial situation, and a strong conviction that careful planning can itself be an attractive “investment,” your investment professional is well prepared to guide you through the complexities of helping your parents. Developed by MFS®, in cooperation with Ceridian Corporation’s LifeWorks Services, this guide should help you answer some basic questions about eldercare. If you need further assistance, contact your investment professional.

Taking on the Caring Role

There may or may not be a single dramatic moment when your relationship with an older relative shifts and you take on a bigger role in his or her care. However these changes begin, your new responsibilities will raise some issues you may not have thought about. You may find it hard to admit that a person you have depended on in the past may now have to rely on you. In turn, the older person may fear becoming dependent and a burden. At times you may disagree about how to do things, or even what to do. And your older relative’s need for independence may conflict with your need to know that he or she is safe and comfortable.

Getting involved

You and your older relative will both be better off if you get involved before problems develop into crises. Early involvement gives you and your family the time to understand what your older relative needs and wants. It will also give you a head start in identifying the resources you’ll need, some of which might not be available right away. The sooner you act, the better off you’ll be and the more choices you’ll have in the long run. When you start to notice changes in your older relative’s behavior or health, it is natural to look for quick solutions. But, if the situation is not an emergency, it’s a good idea to take some time, gather information, and pinpoint the problems. As you begin this process, involve the rest of the family. Share your concerns with your older relative and with other family members. Enlist their support in understanding the situation and exploring what steps you might take.  Talking with your relative It can be difficult to talk with an older relative about your concerns for his welfare, but it is very important. Think of how hard it would be if you were in your older relative’s place. He may be afraid of losing independence and control. Coping with the loss of a spouse or the death of friends, decreasing abilities, and growing dependence can mean loneliness, frustration, and depression. Your older relative may not believe that, despite limitations, new opportunities are possible. Accepting help is difficult for many people, and this may be an obstacle, too. Some older people, including those who are financially able, may hesitate to spend their money for services they need. Here are some ideas for discussing important, but difficult, issues with your relative.

  • Listen to your relative at least as much as you talk. It can be easy to fall into the trap of talking too much, especially if you’re discussing a difficult topic and feeling a little nervous yourself. Remember, conversation is a two-way street.
  • Be as positive as possible. Try to make constructive suggestions instead of blameful or negative statements. “Let’s try having a housekeeper come to do the heavier work so you can keep things the way you like them,” may work better than, “You know you can’t keep this place clean anymore.”
  • Remember that your relative still needs to make decisions about his own life. Maintaining someone’s sense of independence and dignity may be as important as getting his groceries delivered or making sure he has the right medical care.
  • Be patient. Allow enough time for your relative to complete his thoughts without interruption. Some older people need extra time to express themselves.
  • Try to set aside a quiet place to talk, ideally during the time of day when your relative is feeling at his best. From time to time in your conversation, repeat what you think you heard your relative say. This will show that you’ve been listening and will help you make sure you’ve understood.
  • Remember that part of feeling secure is feeling needed. Sometimes it can still help to talk about your own feelings and let your relative offer you some comfort.
  • If your relative is feeling afraid or anxious, don’t try to minimize his fears. Let him know you understand how he is feeling and that you want to help. For instance, you might say, “I see that you are worried, but I’ll be right here with you” or “We’ll work something out together.”
  • Never argue — no matter how much you may want to! Realize that each of you may have differences in your approach to a problem or in your feelings about it. Try to talk about those differences without criticizing each other.
  • If your relative resists the help you suggest, recommend that he try it for a limited time — for your sake. Sometimes the older person will do this to assure your “peace of mind.” See if a trusted friend or neighbor, especially one who has a similar problem and is already using assistance, can encourage your older relative to try accepting help.
  • You might talk to your older relative’s doctor or a member of the clergy about your concerns. Sometimes a person is more open to advice from a respected figure outside the family.
  • If you’re really having problems discussing something, slow down. Let go of it. Leave it for another day when you aren’t angry or upset and you can try to think beyond words and behavior to what your relative is really feeling. Remember that people have the right to make poor decisions. You may disagree with something your relative has decided, or you may be frustrated that your relative won’t agree to a change, but the final decisions on these matters rest with your relative. Unless your relative is declared legally incompetent, your role is to help, listen, make suggestions, and get your relative needed services and information, not to take control of her life.