A question for only children with elderly/aging parents
February 28, 2015 8:38 PM   Subscribe

As my question might imply, I'm an only child and I'm a little concerned as to how I'll be taking care of my parents in their old age. While they're not frail and elderly, they are in their 50s with various health issues and they're certainly not going to be getting any younger. I'm thinking a lot about my future lately and a large part of that includes this. Most people I know share that responsibility with their siblings, which I assume does make it a little easier (but I know that's not always the case). Right now I live with them but that won't always be the case obviously. Plus, I've got a lot of emotional/mental health struggles of my own so I'm concerned that I might get overwhelmed with the added responsibility. Extended family members won't be a resource either because of a number of issues. I know this might be a little early for me to be thinking about this, but I want to be prepared.

So for all you only children out there or anyone who's in a similar situation, how are you managing this? What kind of help or resources are you using to help you? Are there emotional/mental difficulties involved with this and if so, how are you coping?

Thanks, Kay
posted by KTN to Human Relations (17 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
If they're in their 50s, it is not too late for them to get long term care insurance. Research this and make it part of The Talk you have with them soon, about these issues. If they're planning for retirement, make sure they are being realistic about their health, especially if they have chronic conditions like diabetes.
posted by katya.lysander at 8:46 PM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

What kind of help do they offer their own parents and what kind of help do they expect from you? I wonder if you have made assumptions about their expectations. For my own parents, I expect them to have arranged their lives to provide the resources they need as they age; they do not assume they can "live in the moment" freely spending money their whole lives and that when their wants exceed their income they automatically have access to my own resources (sorry, bad experience with my in-laws has coloured my perceptions). It is fair to have a conversation with them but prioritizing your own needs over theirs.
posted by saucysault at 9:26 PM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

In case the inevitable/unthinkable happens in the meantime, make sure you have their will, and their life insurance info (if they have any).
posted by spinifex23 at 9:35 PM on February 28, 2015

I am the only child of 80-year-old (divorced) parents. Both my parents have fairly minor health issues, but the years are marching on and I can see the changes.

I asked them several years ago to help me by getting their affairs in order. This includes a will, living will, assets placed in trust, etc. Even though I'm an only child, it makes a huge difference to their peace of mind to know all is in order. Both of them have a one-page list of all medications and complete medical history that they carry in their wallets. These papers have been invaluable when they end up in the hospital, which they do now a few times a year.

We have plans in place to deal with each new chapter. If they follow their peers, this will move from living alone independently to living with a caregiver to living in assisted living to full care. Luckily, my parents have the financial wherewithal to accomplish this.

We've had many, many conversations about the future and it doesn't bother them at all. They actually seem to be comforted by discussing it and knowing their wishes will be respected. Sometimes I do feel spread thin, and I know it will get progressively more difficult. it won't be easy, but knowing we have a plan makes it less stressful.
posted by raisingsand at 10:05 PM on February 28, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yes, yes, yes...make sure they have wills, power of attorney, etc all completed and ready to use if necessary. I'm dealing with a huge mess because my dad didn't leave his affairs in order and my mother has dumped it my lap to figure out. I'm not an only child but I might as well be for all the help my one surviving brother gives.
posted by OkTwigs at 11:07 PM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Consider getting a health power also in case of Alzheimer's or whatever. Take the advice of katya.lysander above, and be SURE to have insurance to pay for long term care/elder care. $7500.00 per month is a common rate here in Portland, Oregon for a certain level of care. More care costs more. Medicare does not pay if there is no reasonable hope of recovery as there is not for elderly people.
posted by Cranberry at 11:19 PM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Actually Medicare is not involved in paying for long-term care except for a particular set of circumstances (the first 100 days immediately following an acute care hospitalization). It is the Medicaid program that can pay for long-term care for those who qualify, and the rules vary from state to state.
posted by yclipse at 4:34 AM on March 1, 2015

A friend of mine (an only child) just lost her mother after moving in with her to take care of her for the last 5 years. Her mother had no DNR directives, refused to say what medical procedures she would or wouldn't want in case of emergency, made no funeral arrangements (she even let the available grave plot next to her husband lapse through not filing paperwork years ago, unbeknownst to my friend), and she may not have left a will. My friend is having an incredibly hard time - on top of losing her mother - to have to deal with so many bureaucratic issues that her mother could have made easy by simply saying what she wanted. So I think that might be your first priority - make sure your parents have a will and a living will, that you know what they have in mind for funeral plans (you can pre-plan and pre-pay for this as well, which sounds morbid but can actually save them a huge amount of money), and - though it's sometimes a harder conversation to have - long-term care insurance. Knowing what they want or expect can help you manage the burden, and telling them how much you think you will be capable of, and what is troubling you, may (hopefully) help them take care of protecting you from too much falling on you down the road.
posted by Mchelly at 5:39 AM on March 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was going to write a long post, we're going through this with my parents and in-laws now, but everyone else has crafted excellent answers. Read them, and do as much as you can.

This might not happen to you, but I've seen siblings get very competitive when it comes to estates and relationships destroyed, even the total amount is very small. Try to convince your parents to be as clear as possible in their wills. Don't let them assume everyone is on good terms and it will all work out.

It's good you are thinking about this now. My parents kept putting it off and I let it slide since they were in good health. But then suddenly they weren't and the questions were much hard to answer.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:00 AM on March 1, 2015

There's so much good advice above, but I will add a different facet. First, yes, hopefully you have a long time to go but it is good for you and your parents to start planning both paperwork wise but also with things down the road like lower-maintenance housing rather than a big house you will also have to help with if the roof leaks, etc. (Although that you live there now probably helps a lot.)

Second though -- what caregivers need a lot in their lives is support. And people too.

So right now while your parents are really pretty relatively young and in good health, it's a great idea for you to put your efforts into building a life that is really great for you, where you are in good health, good financial health, and have good friends and community around you. Focusing on the emotional/mental stuff for you and making sure you are getting to the best possible place, is a step forward for your whole family. Set up your support network, lifelong, so you can be a part of everyone else's support network too.

When my dad had his aneurysm when my youngest was 6 weeks old, I had my post-partum network around me, friends on tap, eye out for PPD, being careful about sleeping and eating and all those things and wow, it was really cool how that network helped both me and my parents to get where we needed to go, ICU, hospitals, rehab. It really brought home for me that having had a child before and gone through the 'I can't do this alone? What???' thing helped me so much with the other kinds of caregiving.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:08 AM on March 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

My mom just went through this. She wasn't an only child, but her sister died 15 years ago so when my grandparents got old, the burden fell on her. I'm an only child, so the burden will fall on me someday. I've learned some things from her experience.

First, live near your parents, or move them close to you. Traveling 1000 miles every month added a lot of stress to my mother's life. It was not practical (logistically or financially) to move them once they were in a nursing home, but it could have been planned out better from the start. I'd like to move away from my family now, but I know I'll need to move back when they get old.

Second, are you really, really sure about those extended family members? Even if they can't or won't do anything directly for your parents, would they help take care of your needs (e.g. babysitting your future children while you take care of parents)? If they are awful, abusive people then cut your ties, but if you're just out of contact with them, consider staying in touch. My mom hadn't talked to her cousins in decades, but they were helpful with little things like making food and giving rides. If you're at all inclined towards religion, get involved in the community, they will be very helpful later on.

Finally, I'm not sure my mom could have gotten through without her husband and me for support. If you're still living at home now, it's more likely than not that eventually you'll have a spouse and/or kids so the burden won't fall entirely on you.
posted by desjardins at 8:47 AM on March 1, 2015

Hello, fellow only child! My parents are about 20 years older than yours, and I get your concern that they're going to be a burden on you someday -- this may or may not happen though. You may very well be worrying about something that will never happen. Who knows? ProTip: always handle your own oxygen mask first, and worry most about yourself. You wrote: "I've got a lot of emotional/mental health struggles of my own" - so I'm going to buck the tide here slightly to suggest that dealing with the issues in your own life should actually be your first priority right now. Think of it this way: doing so will be immensely helpful to your parents long term.

You say your parents have "various health issues" and you all live together - as in they are paying your way somewhat in life, but you have a plan to live independently soon? My advice is for you to focus on that plan, and also to become a healthy living role model for them without being too in their faces about it. Do all the things you wish they would start doing. Example: I wish my parents would go to therapy for their marital and personal issues. They won't, but I've talked about how helpful therapy has been for me and my husband, and maybe someday they will see the light about that. Or not. But either way I don't lose sleep worrying about them not doing all the things I think they should, because I am so worried about myself, and making sure I'm doing the things I can do. So let's say you want them to clearly plan for the end of their lives with all the right documents in place, and get their financial house in order so you don't have to feel like the shit is all going to hit the fan someday. My best advice would be to do that for yourself first and show them your completed binder with what you've done, because, not to get too grim with you-- but despite your ages, these roles as you're predicting them could easily reverse, and they could wind up caring for an incapacitated you. There are many prior Asks on the things folks wish others would've done before they got really sick/died, complete with good links for you to check out, such as the first comment to this Ask. Be well!
posted by hush at 9:02 AM on March 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

This information from Lifehacker was just sent to me a few days ago.


It covers everything you should know/do with your parents.
Your lucky. Your parents are young enough that you can get a lot of things taken care of before issues start. You can start by taking care of yourself right away. You don't have to think your parents need you tomorrow. You could have years before your parents ever need you to be their caregiver.
posted by BostonCannuck at 9:57 AM on March 1, 2015

Having gone through the same scenario myself, the most important thing I can ask is, what are your parents thinking about their futures? The more decisions they can make in advance, the easier it will be for you all, logistically and emotionally. There are so many different scenarios that they might find themselves in - maybe they just need a helper in the home a few mornings a week, maybe they need live in assistance, maybe they need to be in care facility- they should be planning for all of these possibilities. It's loving and thoughtful of you to be thinking of their needs as you plan your future; it would be powerfully loving of them to help you by planning theirs.

If nothing else, definitely have them get wills, health care directives, and medical power of attorney in place. For my family, it was very worth the thousand bucks or so we spent on an elder law attorney and a financial planner. They helped not only with the legal docs but also with planning for Medicaid eligibility- that's tricky stuff, but so important, especially if a long term care facility is needed. (And if you are the only family caregiver, it may be - making sure your parents have the care they may mean recognizing that you can't do it yourself.)

It is a tough spot to be in - I hope your parents will work with you so you can all find as much peace of mind as possible.
posted by tinymojo at 10:16 AM on March 1, 2015

The thing I have been so grateful for (as an only child who lives very very far from her 70+ y/o parents) is the fact that my parents live in a big city with an amazing public transportation system. Mobility is a huge part of independence and staying active, and I've seen many friends struggle as their parents or grandparents have to give up driving and then are effectively isolated at home in the suburbs. Even when there are sidewalks, often times the crosswalk signal is too brief for a slower walker to cross safely. AARP and others have been working on "Age Friendly Cities" projects that seek to improve the physical and social environment for seniors.

My suggestions would be to think through 1) what activities and social networks do your parents currently enjoy 2) how will health issues (worsening eyesight, etc) affect their ability to access or enjoy these activities. Example: Do they go to a weekly religious service? If they couldn't drive, how would they get there? If they garden or putter around outside, do they know the neighbors? Do you know the neighbors and could someone give you a call if there was an emergency? While "aging in place" is the ideal for many seniors, the move to a townhouse or a senior community is often very much because of concerns around isolation and support.

Also if you haven't read Atul Gawande's Being Mortal or Ira Rosofsky's Nasty, Brutish, and Long: Adventures in Eldercare, both are highly recommended.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:23 AM on March 1, 2015

As an only child who expected to take care of ageing parents but lost them both after short declines my advice is to tell them you love them while you still can. Time passes before you know it.

Ask about family medical history. Sometimes allergies or diseases skip generations. Ask for names on all the old pictures. Ask your mom to go on Geanology.com and look up your history for you. You'll need their internet passwords. I got my parents using Lastpass which kept all that straight and accessible when needed. Information about various insurance policies (life, health, long term care, burial, etc.) should all be kept in the same place and you need to know where it is. Eventually you'll need a signature card on file with their bank to pay bills. A good accountant is a gift from the gods.

Whether your journey be swift and confusing or long and gasping, good luck. Hug em while you've got em.
posted by irisclara at 12:13 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ageing, sick, and dying parents can sap a lot of your time, energy, and money. Get yourself on a sound financial footing. Get your own retirement plans settled, so you can eventually retire and live independently or go into retirement care independently, but not depend on your future (if any) children. You don't want to come out of handling your parents' retirement to discover that your own retirement is screwed.

Meanwhile, your parents ought to at least start organizing stuff, or start letting you do some of it. It's tedious, but not as tedious as the alternatives. Get wills so there are no fights over who wanted who to get what. And have unofficial talks with them about what they want, what they don't want, and what they would rather die than have to put up with. Then you can plan.

I know you live together now, but questions for the future, when you almost inevitably move out: Will they now live far away? Can you or they move so you are back in the same town when needed? When one dies, does the other sell the home and move in with you? Into a little apartment near you? Are you ready for that? Are you ready for that plus a nurse coming in all day while you're out? Or are they going into one of the local retirement homes? (They might swear they will never do that, but eventually people are left alone and unable to care for themselves, and then what?)

Does their insurance cover everything it needs to? Where are the papers describing their plans? If someone died tonight and the other was distraught and lost, where would you go to find the insurance plans and bank account numbers and deeds and wills and so on? Maybe the best first step: buy them a portable fireproof safe to store important papers. Make sure you know the combination or keep one of the keys to yourself. Then they have a good reason to put everything in one identifiable and relatively secure place you can take with you and open as needed.
posted by pracowity at 5:31 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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