Caring for an aging parent is incredibly rewarding. It also can be stressful, expensive, and time-consuming. So we've put together a checklist to help you provide a high quality of life to your elderly parent.
You've volunteered to take care of your parent or grandparent, but what exactly does that entail? As a new caregiver, it's essential to know what you're signing up for. Your duties will likely include medication management, transportation to medical appointments, meal preparation, housework, and grocery shopping. A big part of your responsibilities will be tending to your aging parent's activities of daily living (ADLs) like personal grooming and eating. Your goal is to help your loved one stay as happy and healthy in their home until it is no longer feasible.
At Weatherly Inn, we know the stress of caring for elderly parents can quickly become overwhelming. In other blogs, we've shown how caregiver burnout is a prevalent phenomenon in those providing eldercare, but it can also be a rewarding experience.
If you've committed to helping your older parent stay in a family home for as long as possible, let our "Caring for Aging Parents Checklist" help you stick to your goal.
The Ultimate Checklist for Caregiving
1. Establish Senior-Friendly Housing for Your Aging Parent
The first thing you'll need to do is attend to your aging parent's housing situation. Their home must be physically and emotionally safe for them to thrive. Here's how you can make sure their home is safe:
- Remove tripping hazards like area rugs and extension cords.
- Where necessary, store vitamins and medications in a safe, secure, and out-of-reach place.
- Install bathroom grab bars and a shower seat in the tub.
- Add extra lighting and nightlights throughout the home, especially between the bed and the bathroom. Consider using motion sensors.
- Check the hot water settings; "Check the hot water settings. Make sure they aren't set too high. A good temperature is 120° or less.
- Check smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, as even small amounts of carbon monoxide can be hazardous to the elderly. Change batteries every six months.
Once they're physically safe, make sure they're emotionally safe as well. Their home should feel like a warm and caring environment. Be sure they have access to a few of their favorite pastimes — perhaps they like to play solitaire at the table or watch Judge Judy. Activities will help keep them engaged and can also help keep your loved one relaxed. Finally, your aging parent's surroundings must be positive and caring. We know every family has the occasional disagreement, but avoid major arguments while in your aging parent's presence. This leads us to the next item on our caring for parents checklist: limits and boundaries.
2. Know Your Limits
It's crucial to understand your caregiving limits. For instance, some family caregivers feel comfortable handling injectable medications and syringes, while others do not. Practice and patience goes a long way toward the caregiver learning curve. Still, at some point, you will face a task that makes you uncomfortable. Whether it's personal care or dealing with finances, don't hesitate to ask for help and establish your boundaries.
3. Establish Boundaries
While caring for an aging parent, you'll still need time to attend to housework, study, work, worship, or other family matters. So set some reasonable time boundaries and make them clear to the entire family. Everyone has unique responsibilities, but consider:
- Scheduling one day a week for yourself. Another family member can handle the caregiving that day, or you can take advantage of senior day and respite care services.
- Creating a date night with your significant other once a month.
- Ending your caregiver "shift" at a set time every night, emergencies aside, of course.
Understand that for anyone — and caregivers in particular — self-care is NOT a luxury. It's a necessity. You'll also need to set financial boundaries. Be clear with your parent about your budget. Perhaps you dedicate an extra $200 per month to take them to the salon or barber. Once those funds are spent, be ready to remain firm or ask other family members for financial help.
Speaking of finances, it's also time to learn about retirement benefits, senior health insurance, and long-term care insurance. This will help you protect your senior loved one from financial scams, and it will be valuable for to you someday too!
4. Learn About Medicare, Medicaid and Long Term Care Insurance
Medicare is health insurance for seniors. It's a federal benefit that Americans can earn by paying into the system throughout their career. To qualify, a retiring senior must have paid into the system for 40 quarters (about ten years) in the 20 years leading up to their retirement. Medicare is an important benefit, but it does have significant gaps in coverage.
You'll need to know what Medicare covers. For now, know that:
- Medicare Part A is hospital coverage and will cover most of a hospital visit.
- Medicare Part B is health insurance. It covers doctor visits and most diagnostic testing.
- Medicare Part D is drug coverage for prescription meds.
Medicaid is different from Medicare. Medicaid is a federal and state funded safety-net program designed to provide medical insurance and assisted living for low-income individuals.
Long Term Care Insurance is self-funded and designed to pay for long-term care in an assisted living community, memory care community, or skilled nursing facility . Your aging parent might have paid into a program like this, so it's worth researching. By the way, if you need to know more about financing senior care in the future, call us and ask for some help or check our one of the other blogs we’ve written on the topic.
Now that you're getting familiar with health insurance topics for aging adults, it's time to shore up their paperwork to protect them from financial scams.
5. Protect Your Aging Parent from Financial Scams
Con-artists specifically target seniors because they are trusting, occasionally forgetful, and reluctant to involve law enforcement when they've been ripped off.
Per the FBI: "millions of elderly Americans fall victim to... financial fraud or confidence schemes, including romance, lottery, and sweepstakes scams, to name a few. Criminals [gain] their targets' trust and may communicate with them directly via computer, phone, and the mail; or indirectly through the TV and radio."
In the US today, some of the most common scams include:
- Romance scams –– where others pretend to be romantically interested in a senior to gain access to their personal information.
- Technology scams –– where others pose as tech support for computers via email or telephone.
- Credit card scams –– where others claim to be a representative from Visa or MasterCard.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has also been an influx of COVID-related scams that target the elderly. Remember, no one from Medicare or Social Security will ever contact your aging parent on the phone and ask them for a benefit plan number or social security number or tell them their Social Security number has been “cancelled.” You should monitor your loved ones' credit card and bank accounts; it's also a good idea to store their legal documents in a safe place, and know where they write down their passwords. Another crucial financial aspect is ensuring your elderly parents have a living will or advance directive, and that you have power of attorney in a potential end-of-life situation. We know this can be a huge burden on adult children. Families who can afford it often hire a financial planner to help manage these responsibilities. Finally, let's talk about the last point on our checklist: how to find professional help.
6. Get Help When You're Overwhelmed
As we mentioned earlier, caregiver stress and caregiver burnout are legitimate issues for adult children. They affect nearly every caregiver at some point! Providing home care is a noble undertaking, but if you're overwhelmed with the constant duties of caring for an aging parent, it's time to explore other options or a higher level of care. We've written extensively about caregiver burnout elsewhere, for now, know that:
- Caregiver stress can lead to health issues like headaches and high blood pressure.
- Symptoms include sleeplessness, fatigue, stomach aches, and mood swings.
If you're experiencing caregiver burnout, your aging parent will benefit from adult day care services and occasional respite care (home-like communities that will care for your loved one for a few hours or a few days). Or, it might be time to consider moving them into an assisted living community or memory care to ensure they have adequate personal care. Debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia require 24/7 monitoring and professional assistance.
Related Reading & Resources: