Role-reversal: When parents are relying on you

As your parents get older, your whole family will be facing lots of changes. Supporting them during this time can be challenging, with lots of choices to be made. Get some tips to help you prepare for this role-reversal without it becoming a burden or a cause of family conflict.
In the later stages of life, many seniors want to stay independent for as long as possible, but there usually comes a time when they need more support. So how can you do more for your parents to keep them safe and comfortable, without taking away their sense of independence and dignity? Here are some practical tips to guide you through the process and minimise stress for everyone involved:
Talk together as a family
Instead of waiting until one, or both, of your parents are facing a crisis with their health and/or finances, have a family meeting to talk about what they would like to happen. While it may be a tricky subject to tackle and one the whole family can feel quite emotional about, being prepared to care for your parents as they age can make it a lot less stressful when there’s a change in circumstances. Even if your parents are in the best of health now, that situation can change overnight, quite literally, if they were to have a stroke or a fall.
Facing ageing and mortality are pretty tough so there may be resistance – from your parents or siblings – to confronting things head on in a formal meeting. So, it’s well worth reminding your family that it’s in everyone’s best interests to get ready, emotionally and practically, to do what’s best for Mum and Dad. Have a box of tissues and lots of patience at the ready in case people get very sad or angry and above all, be ready to listen to what family members have to say.
The question of care
How your parents want to live out their days and what they can afford are really the two important questions to address. Answering the following questions can help you determine the best way forward for your parents as they become less capable of looking after themselves:
1. Do you plan to stay at home as you age?
The answer to this question isn’t always yes, but many people feel safe and comfortable in a home that’s familiar. The idea of moving somewhere new later in life can be pretty intimidating so wanting to stay put is a natural and very popular choice for seniors. In the 2018/19 budget, $1.6 billion was allocated to providing 14,000 additional high level home care packages by 2021/22[1]. So, if your parents are set on staying in their home, talk to them about the possibility of seeking the extra help they might need, from a government subsidised service, family members, or both.
2. How well are you coping at home?
Some parents may say they don’t need any help with day-to-day living at home. If this is the case, you may need to do some sleuthing and check if they’re showing any signs of actually needing assistance. Seeing things that are out of character – like a messy house or garden, not cooking or shopping as often, wearing dirty clothes –could be warnings that they’re struggling to do things they normally would.
3. Do you feel connected to your family, friends and community?
If it puts your parents at risk of becoming more isolated, staying at home may not be the perfect solution. You may already be well aware of how active or quiet they are socially, but it’s still worth asking how connected and safe they feel in their community. Are they still comfortable walking, driving or taking public transport to enjoy life outside their home? Are there people nearby they can call on if they have an emergency or just need someone to talk to?
4. What can family do to make things easier at home?
Giving Mum and Dad the support they need to continue getting out and about is just one of the ways you can care for them as they age. It can be the case that a little extra help from family, or a few modifications like handrails in the bathroom, are all that’s needed to keep parents safe and happy in their home.
By taking more time to care for your parents you may find yourself stretched in terms of time and finances, particularly if you still have responsibility for looking after younger generations too. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the weekly median salary for primary carers aged 15-64 is 42% lower than for non-carers[2].
So, it’s important to bear in mind what capacity you have before playing a bigger part in supporting ageing parents.
5. Have you looked at other options – retirement village or residential aged care?
If your parents are looking to downsize, spend less time looking after their home and more time with like-minded people, moving to a retirement village could work well for them. But when parents need a higher level of medical care, support or supervision, they may need to plan for transition into residential aged care. The earlier you can start this process, the better the outcomes are likely to be for your parent or parents, particularly if they’re anxious or fearful about making the move. Start research and planning sooner and you’re likely to have a wider range of options to choose from.
Wealth and wellbeing
No matter how strong your relationship is with family, things can get a bit fraught when it comes to finances. An honest conversation about your parent’s financial position is just as important as establishing what their wishes are. It’s wise to discuss who will take legal responsibility for managing their financial affairs through an enduring Power of Attorney (PoA) arrangement. If you have siblings, it could make sense for you to share this role, depending on each of your circumstances.
No matter who is going to be holding the purse strings on behalf of your parents, their task will be made easier if they have a few essential details:
• Where do your parents keep financial documents, including any PoA and their Will?
• Who do they bank with and what are their account details?
• How much income are they living on? Does it come from the age pension, investments or another source?
• How much are their bills and living expenses and how are they paid?
• Do they have private health insurance and what is their level of cover?
• Do they have an accountant, financial planner or solicitor?
If this all seems very money-minded and nosey, just remember your parents’ wealth and wellbeing can be at risk if paying bills and managing their investments and income isn’t properly taken care of.
If you and your siblings are going to be taking control of your parents’ financial affairs in the future, it’s important for you to have legal responsibility to act on their behalf. Find out more about what’s involved in making an enduring Power of Attorney arrangement.
Sources:[1] Budget 2018-19, “More Australians are choosing to access aged care in their homes. To support Australians who wish to stay at home, the Government is providing $1.6 billion to support 14,000 additional high-level home care packages by 2021-22.”
[2] Carers Australia, Statistics, “The weekly median income of primary carers aged 15 – 64 was 42% lower than that of noncarers”

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