The Pilgrims figured out in 1621 that autumn is the ideal season for celebration. It wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared that Thanksgiving would be a national holiday, which we would thereafter celebrate on a Thursday in November. The post-harvest time that appealed to both the Pilgrims and President Lincoln is still an opportune time for families to get together and celebrate before facing winter’s challenges.
Holidays can be a time of great joy even if some family members must travel through heavy traffic and across inconvenient distances to reunite. As we age, it seems that family reunions don’t happen often enough. It’s hard to keep up with changes that happen within our extended family when we are apart. That’s especially true for Baby Boomers who live at a distance from their parents.
Many parents of Baby Boomers have learned to use “the” email and some even “watch” on Skype. But few of them use the terms “email” and “Skype” as verbs. Fewer yet know how to send a text message, or chat with instant messaging. Communication between Baby Boomers and their distant parents has limitations.
In addition to watching football, eating turkey, and beginning the Black Friday shopping extravaganza on Thursday evening, Thanksgiving might have been a time that you just found out something about your family. Maybe your daughter is pregnant, and you are expecting your first grandchild; or your son brought his girlfriend home from college. Perhaps your brother felt forced to accept early retirement, and is concerned because your nephew has been deployed to Afghanistan. Emotions in response to that news can run from one extreme to the other; but for the most part, it is news that you must take in stride because there is nothing you can do about it.
Holidays can also be a time when you initially discover, or feel forced to face up to, the fact that one of your parents has dementia. Or maybe dementia isn’t the issue, but only by visiting for an entire day did you notice that climbing the stairs is no longer possible for a parent because of a problem with a knee or hip. Perhaps you got a clue that the reason it has been hard to understand what has been said during recent phone calls is that there seems to be some paralysis of a parent’s facial muscles, even though you were never told about a trip to a hospital.
When the condition of our parents changes, it is confusing to know what to do. Sometimes one sibling, maybe you, has been aware of an issue for a long time. But another sibling, who is unable to travel to see your parents as often, has had trouble either recognizing or accepting the change. Other times, the out-of-town sibling might quickly notice change in a parent that the adult child who has been living next-door to the parent did not notice because the change occurred gradually. When siblings share observations in a way that respects the limitations of the other sibling(s) and values multiple perspectives, it can be very helpful at the onset of recognizing a parent’s issues.
So you just found out that one of your parents needs help. Or you and your siblings are just facing up to it. Your parent still hasn’t asked for help, and has dismissed your increasingly less subtle suggestions. Perhaps if both parents are living, the other parent is in some denial of the issue, despite appearing overly exhausted from caregiving. You fear that you are on the verge of bad things happening soon if you don’t do something. The worrying is starting to keep you awake at night.
What should you do? Aging issues are complex and involve legal, financial and social concerns. Legal documents are needed, but are not a total solution. The cost of care and how to pay for it can be a problem. But getting your parents to agree to allow you to help them is essential.
There are many important estate planning documents, but of immediate importance to you is a Financial Power of Attorney. It needs to be durable, compliant with current Pennsylvania law, and have appropriate gifting powers. If multiple children have been named as simultaneous agents, a serious problem exists if they do not agree.
If one parent needs skilled nursing care, which usually occurs at the tail end of an event which requires extended hospitalization, then Medical Assistance often can be obtained quickly with the help of a lawyer who understands Medicaid laws. However, if someone is physically healthy except for dementia, custodial care is needed. That costs less, but is not eligible for Medical Assistance. We often help wartime veterans or their surviving spouses qualify for a special pension for those cases.
Parents might resist help, fearing a loss of independence and maybe feeling they can’t afford the care they need. We can often get them an unexpected government benefit, or otherwise help them understand how they can afford the care. Our approach, which combines legal and social work, equips us to help Baby Boomers explain to their parents how the parents can have more options and control if they act sooner than later. Our goal is to empower the parents to feel that the best decision is theirs.
Even though you “just found out,” this is one of those things that you shouldn’t just take in stride. At least try to do something, because parents who have conditions as described in this article are in danger of suffering pain and financial loss if you don’t. A good start would be to attend our free seminar on Thursday November 29th at 10, 2 or 7 at the Hampton Inn in the Rossmoyne Business Center of Mechanicsburg. We’ll tell you how to deal with a care crisis without putting family finances at risk. Please call us to reserve a seat. If you can’t attend Thursday, call us anyway.