According to the Population Reference Bureau, America’s population of seniors aged 65 is growing rapidly and this trend is projected to continue. Today, there are over 46 million seniors in the US, and this number is likely to double by 2060. And according to caregiver.org, over 34 million Americans had cared for adults over age 50 through 2015. This group is often coined the “Sandwich Generation,” which refers to adults who are providing care for multiple generations of loved ones.
As more and more people face the difficult task of caring for aging parents, it’s important that they educate themselves on the best course of action in order to minimize stress and emotional trauma during what is often an extremely difficult time. Here are five common mistakes you should avoid when caring for aging parents:
Assuming their finances and end-of-life documents are in order
Trying to “handle everything”
Failing to find appropriate housing options
Putting off difficult conversations
Generally being unprepared
[Need help with probate? We offer helpful probate services and will work with you to find the plan that meets your needs. Learn more.]
Are you prepared to care for an aging parent?
To put it bluntly, most people simply are not prepared to make the complex and difficult decisions that can come up when an elderly parent falls ill and is no longer able to care for themselves. From financial problems to family misunderstandings, there are almost always unexpected difficulties, but early preparation can help mitigate major stresses.
While each family will have an entirely different set of needs to do with caretaking, it’s important to understand what your options and resources are to ensure that you have adequate support and that all of their affairs are in order.
To learn more about how to help aging parents, let’s cover some of the top mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1: assuming their finances and end-of-life documents are in order
You probably are prepared to manage your parent's finances, but it’s worth noting that there could be details that have gone overlooked.
Consider the following questions to make sure that your bases are covered:
Do you know how to keep your parents safe from financial scams?
What type of care does their insurance cover?
Is your parent’s estate plan up to date?
Will the home insurance payments be covered after death?
Do you have updated power of attorney documents?
Are your parents in debt?
If you don’t take extra care to tackle their finances and estate documents while they are still of sound mind, you could get stuck with massive bills that are impossible to pay off.
Mistake #2: trying to “handle everything”
If you are a caregiver, one of the most important things that you can do for yourself and your family is to ask for and find help wherever you can, otherwise, you could end up with caregiver burnout. Some common signs and symptoms of this include:
Exhaustion and fatigue
Neglecting your own caretaking needs
High states of constant anxiety and stress
Inability to relax
Getting irritable with the person you are caring for
There are many things that you can do to prevent caregiver burnout. You may, for instance, delegate home tasks to other family members, find a babysitter a couple of nights a week, attend a caregiver support group, or hire extra care workers.
Asking for help is crucial at this time. Even if you’re confident in your own abilities, always keep the conversation going with trusted family and friends and make sure you don’t neglect your own needs. In addition, check to see what local caregiving options are available for additional support if needed. Remember–it’s okay to get help, too.
Mistake #3: failing to find appropriate housing options
Fortunately these days there are many viable housing alternatives available for aging parents in need of extra support. This means that before deciding to take them in, it can be better to look around at your options.
For instance, assisted living homes offer some health support but still offer the freedom for people to move around on their own. Long-term care facilities are also an option. Do the research ahead and find out which options are available and which ones your parent(s) would feel more comfortable with.
Mistake #4: putting off difficult conversations
Conversations that have to do with late-life issues and adult caretaking are understandably difficult for all parties involved. Parents are likely to be scared or embarrassed, and sometimes even angry at the prospect of someone else taking over their finances and health matters.
It’s important to stay patient and keep an open dialogue with your parent(s) in order to ensure that their preferences and needs are acknowledged — and the earlier these conversations start, the less likely you are to run into snags later.
Here are some suggestions for how to frame these types of difficult discussions:
If several people need to be involved, schedule a meeting to allow all relevant parties to participate, and to ensure that they have time to prepare emotionally to discuss a difficult topic.
If there is already emotional conflict (eg: between siblings about a Will), hire a mediator to help you through the details.
Understand your parents’ needs and potential fears.
Talk about your own Will or estate planning to open a conversation.
For more tips on how to have the end-of-life conversation with loved ones, check out our guide here.
There are many different approaches that you can take when discussing these matters., To help ease the conversation, make sure that you are in a calm environment and are emotionally restrained yourself so that it does not end in conflict should your family resist the conversation.
Mistake #5: generally being unprepared
There are plenty of things to think about as you help your parents during late life. Here’s a list of documents that you want to make sure you have access to as early as possible.
Wills and Trusts
Durable power of attorney
Health care power of attorney
Medical proxies (power of attorney or other advanced directives)
Financial records: statements and bills
Insurance documents: life, medical, property
Look for professional advisors (investment, bankers, attorneys, insurance)
Having lists of appropriate care facilities, medical professionals, and even support groups for yourself are examples of ways you can prepare ahead of time. In addition, make sure that you are able to access updated copies of all of your legal documents to do with end-of-life and estate planning.
Get the help you need
If you’re struggling with a recent death or are looking for alternative ways to help aging parents, we can help minimize stress so that you can focus on taking care of yourself and your family during this stressful time. At Trust & Will, we’re here to help you keep things simple. You can create a fully customizable, state-specific Estate Plan from the comfort of your own home in just 20 minutes. Take our free quiz to see where you should get started, or compare our different estate planning options today!
Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Browse more topics in our learn center or chat with a live member support representative!
Trust & Will is an online service providing legal forms and information. We are not a law firm and we do not provide legal advice.