Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Column: How to care for your parents without killing yourself

The lack of a coherent means of helping the elderly navigate their need for help as they age is the most important societal issue facing our nation that is not commonly discussed.
Do chlidren know their parents’ plans and wishes? As people live longer and longer, that becomes ever more important. In this March 10, 2011, file photo, Besse Cooper, 114, receives a kiss from her grandson Paul Cooper, 42, during a ceremony in which Guinness World Records recognized her as the word’s oldest living person, at the nursing home where she lives in Monroe, Ga. Besse Cooper lived until age 116.
Published Jan. 2

Looking for a slightly less controversial topic than President Donald Trump for a family holiday gathering? If so, ask the following question at the dinner table: How are we going to take care of mom and dad as they age and need help?

The final assignment for my Introduction to Health Policy class at Duke University this fall had students write a letter to their parents telling them how they and their siblings planned to see to the three types of help that most people will need if they live long enough: first, help navigating basic life tasks such as paying bills, filing insurance claims, maintaining a household and driving; second, providing direct help to do things like dressing, bathing and using the toilet; finally, ensuring they have a stable housing situation.

Families have cared for one another for millennia, but the retirement of the baby boomers will strain not only the budgets of public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but the resources of the (fewer) children that boomers had. Adult children face a basic choice when their parents need help: pay for it with your own money, money that might be yours someday, or pay with your time.

There are benefits to families caring for one another, but most underestimate the costs (dollars, time and strain). And since your mother only dies once, there is a learning problem inherent in caring for an elderly parent —- once they die, there are not typically effective ways to pass on the hard-earned wisdom to those just beginning the journey. As a result, most people are woefully unprepared to face a completely predictable phenomenon.

To help my students develop their plans, I provided these prompts.

• What is a realistic lifespan for your parents?

• When will they likely need help? Today, three months, three years or 10 years in the future?

• What warning signs should you look for that your parents need help? Falls, driving problems, loss of ability to do things they have been good at like cooking a meal, saying they overwhelmed by everyday life, losing things and expressions of concern from friends or a physician.

• Do you know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid?

• Will they have retiree supplemental insurance? Should they purchase a Medigap plan? Medicare Advantage? Private long-term care insurance?

• What assets and income streams will they have in retirement?

• If their housing situation is unstable/safe, will they move in with you? Elsewhere?

• How do you pick a nursing home for your mom?

• How will the family divide the tasks (planning, paying, caring, hosting)?

• Has your parent expressed preferences? Are they realistic, financially and otherwise?

• Are their legal affairs in order: will, living will, durable power of attorney, advance directive, plans for burial/cremation?

Communicating about these issues will be hard and take practice. My marriage was strengthened by caring for my mother-in-law with my wife, but the strain of family caregiving tears apart some families.

The lack of a coherent means of helping the elderly navigate their need for help as they age is the most important societal issue facing our nation that is not commonly discussed. Answering these questions will affect far more persons than will the fate of the Obamacare exchanges, for example.

If you are my age (51), then you not only should be thinking about caring for your parents, but also about how to make it easier for your children to care for you. This is one issue that is not like fine wine — it does not get better with age.

Donald H. Taylor, Jr. is a professor of health policy at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy. He is writing a book titled "How To Care For Your Parents Without Killing Yourself."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, speaks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. MARKUS SCHREIBER  |  AP
    The billionaire also talks trade with China in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
  2. Earlier today• Opinion
    Editorial cartoon for Thursday from Times wire services LISA BENSON  |  Washington Post Syndicate
  3. Yesterday• Opinion
    Plumes of steam drift from the cooling tower of FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. RON SCHWANE  |  AP
    Thursday’s letters to the editor
  4. Nearly three dozen trees were cut down at a half-abandoned trailer park along Gandy Boulevard in August, enraging tree advocates and sparking another battle between the city of Tampa and a new state law that removes local government authority over tree removal. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
    The Florida Legislature made it easier for residents to cut down trees without permission from local government. Now everybody wants to do it.
  5. Editorial cartoons for Wednesday from Times wire services Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
  6. The M-16 is a pure military weapon. File photo
    Wednesday’s letters to the editor
  7. State Rep. Chris Sprowls, 35, R-Palm Harbor, speaks Tuesday after Republicans selected him as the next House speaker.  Associated Press I Caina Calvan BOBBY CAINA CALVAN  |  AP
    The Palm Harbor Republican will become the second Florida House speaker from Pinellas.
  8. Hernando County community news Tara McCarty
  9. editorial cartoon from times wires Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  10. Governor Ron DeSantis. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s paper.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement