Caring for aging parents

Canadians aged 85+ represent the fastest-growing segment of seniors.



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Have you thought about what you’ll do when the time comes for your mom and dad to need extra help? It’s not something most of us think about. Used to parents who have been vital, who have been the ones doing the guarding, many of us are ill-prepared for the years when our parents may need extra care.

Canadians aged 85 and over represent the fastest-growing segment of the senior population. Eventually many of us are going to have to come to terms with parents who have fallen prey to the ravages of age. Our first instinct may be to bring them into our own homes. That’s the way it was when I was a girl growing up in Jamaica. My great-grandparents lived with my grandparents. Home care worked well because there were always bodies available to help. Here in Canada, where my grand aunt lived with my aunt and uncle, they eventually ran into the problem of having a parent who needed constant supervision when they both worked outside the home.

If you accept the responsibility for home care and you have siblings, you’ll not only have to deal with caring for your aging parent, you’ll also have to manage your brothers’ and sisters’ expectations, comments and involvement (or lack thereof). This can be no small feat. Some experts recommend that the sharing of the costs include a “salary” for the caregiver. So, the sibling with whom mom lives would pay nothing, while the others would chip in for support, medical care and the like.

Full-time care giving is not a responsibility to be assumed lightly. It is stressful. It is emotional. At times it can seem arduous. Ask for and accept support from family and friends. And watch for signs that you are burning out: changes in personal habits, depression and insomnia. You’ll be no good to a parent if you crack and then break.

Assuming you’re not prepared to give up your career, you’ll need some help. Paid-for home care can be very expensive—upwards of $5,000 a month for 24-hour a day care. While the government may cover a percentage of the cost of in-home nursing, when it comes to personal care—bathing, meal preparation and the like—you’ll have to foot the bill.

To prepare for the day when your parents may need your help, make sure they’ve executed durable powers of attorney for both financial and personal care. As your parents’ legally assigned representative, you’ll be able to access their bank accounts to pay for their expenses. You’ll also be able to make decisions about their long-term maintenance and health care.

You should also prepare for the day when at-home care is no longer a reasonable alternative. People tend to move to institutions as their metal and physical conditions deteriorate. To get your head wrapped around this option, visit your local seniors’ facilities so you know what’s out there, and if necessary, put your parent on the waiting list. Costs vary dramatically so make sure you have a back-up plan in case your first choice is too expensive. RBC Insurance has a list of long-term care provisions available by province.

If you’re worried about how you’re going to pay for all this, then you may want to look into long-term care insurance. Premiums aren’t exactly small change, but if you think your parents will live long and even slightly unhealthy lives, the premiums look like a drop in the bucket when compared to the out-of-pocket cost of long-term in-care.

6 comments on “Caring for aging parents

  1. Solid article as always Gail! I love the fact that you touched on this particular subject because this is easily one of the most overlooked areas in personal finance.


  2. I gave up a well paying career in my top income years to spend more time with my parents. The decision to do so was mine, but I find the legislative discrepancy between leaving work to care for parents verses caring for children annoying. A new mom is entitled to EI, a job to return to in a year, and two years of CPP low income exclusion from entitlement calculations. Without legislature to support parent care, employers can be significantly less supportive too. Cash can address many concerns, but there are situations where no amount of money is going to be able to substitute for your personal involvement. A care giver cant handle the emergency visits for broken bones, the midnight calls when your voice is needed to calm delusional parents, or act as a translator when staff cant understand what they're saying. Having aging parents is like having a child with chronic health issues that speaks a rare dialect. No matter how prepared you think you are financially, you better hope your employer will understand you still need a lot of time off or your contingency planning better include a job loss.


  3. Taking care of my parents (who are 60 now) has not really been on my mind yet, but you never know what could happen so I should definitely start planning soon. Especially if your parent doesn't have enough money to live comfortably; then some of the burden may have to fall on you.


  4. As a 60 year old son to parents who are both 86 and still living in their home of over 30 years, my frustration mounts as they refuse to look to the future. My father cannot live by himself should something happen to my mother. When I asked my mother what my sister and I would do should something happen to her, her response was, "well it won't be my problem anymore!" I am I alone in this situation? My mother is mentally sharp, but unwilling to make any choices and resists any suggestions to improve the situation—all the while complaining how bad things are. I come from a family of "long livers" , my mother's sister is 93 and going strong. The thought of dealing with this for 10 more years is is totally depressing. My parents are fortunate to have the money to have choices—yet their choice is to do nothing. Any thoughts from other 60+ year old children caught betweeen a "rock and a hard place."???


  5. I will immediately grab your rss feed as I can not find your email subscription link or enewsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please let me know in order that I could subscribe. Thanks. dgeaakfdkeaa


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