By Susan Hyatt
You want the best for your parents as they age. But managing care for your ageing mother and father can be an emotional and time-consuming undertaking that takes hours every week, usually on top of career demands and other family obligations. Often referred to as the “sandwich generation”, we call it the “struggling and juggling” phase of life. But there is a better way. The key is planning ahead. Take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions and consider how planning would sense for you.
How many hours per week are you able to devote to properly caring for your parents? And for how long? A recent Canadian study found most men and women care for their parents for 5 to 10 years. Forty percent reported high levels of stress at work and at home, leading to an increase in absences from work, decreased productivity, and a negative impact on career goals. Still, overwhelmingly, people said that elder care is a family responsibility they want to undertake.
How do you ensure that you have the physical and emotional strength to care for your ageing parents for years? What resources might you need to help you navigate the health system and advocate on your parents’ behalf? When considering a plan for them, it’s important to factor in your financial position and the potential for a leave of absence to provide care, should that be necessary.
Do you or your sibling have a Power of Attorney for Property and for Personal Care for your parents? This is essential if you are to act on their behalf, in the event that they can no longer advocate for themselves. Next, do you know what your parent wants for medical care if he or she has a life-altering episode, such as a massive heart attack or stroke? Do you know what decisions your parent would want you to make? Many families prefer not to have conversations they may consider uncomfortable, but it is essential to know before a crisis hits how your parents think and feel about medical care, how they want their finances handled, and how to pay their bills and meet their obligations.
When a parent has a medical crisis, emotions and stress can sometimes get the better of even the most well-meaning family member. Sometimes, major disagreements occur. The person named as Power of Attorney is given the legal responsibility of making all critical decisions. That person’s job is to honour the wishes of the person they are acting on behalf of. If you are that person and encounter problems with your siblings, it’s important to have a clear picture and the resolve to follow through with your parent’s wishes. In some cases that may mean questioning people in authority and holding them accountable for their actions. For example, if your mother or father was not being well-cared for in the hospital or assisted living residence, it may fall to you to take action, with or without your sibling’s support.
Changing Levels of Care
As your parents age, the level of support they need is likely to increase, and you may choose to bring in a caregiver. It’s important to understand the licensing and qualifications of anyone you hire to ensure they are trustworthy and will act with your best interests at heart. If your parents are living in a retirement home, the facility may notify you that they can no longer provide accommodation due to mental/physical changes. Understanding their requirements and rules will help you anticipate potential changes and plan accordingly. For some people palliative care and end of life health care issues will also be a part of providing support for ageing parents. Knowing your parent’s wishes will help to ensure you are comfortable in this role right to the end.
These are only some of the challenges the “sandwich generation” may have to juggle as they care for elderly parents. Families can easily become overwhelmed with the sheer number of decisions that must be made. It is critical to have a well-thought out plan to manage both your parent’s situation and your own family situation.
Susan Hyatt BScPT MBA is the CEO of Silver Sherpa Inc. She is passionate about changing the way we look at ageing and is determined to put her extensive health care and international business expertise to work to provide a very different professional service model for her clients.
Silver Sherpa provides independent planning, coordination, and navigation services for seniors and their families. Our scope encompasses financial and legal affairs, physical and mental health plans, social engagement components, nutrition, personal safety plans and more. We help you plan for the future, as well as navigate unexpected transitions and crises.