Elizabeth picks up the paper and tries to read it. Again. Frustration tears her heart open. The words are no longer clear, just like the numbers on the stove and the labels on the bottles.
“Hi, Mom!” Jane bounds in, but notices the grimace on her aging mother’s face, and hides her concern. Her mother’s deterioration is heartbreaking. Yet, every day, she comes over to hug and kiss her, just to let her know she’s going to be okay.
The facts gnaw at her more by the visit. She and her husband stress and struggle with their finances, because they know there’s little alternative for Elizabeth — but they just don’t know how to handle the financial burden that comes with caring for the elderly.
Caring for the Elderly: The Numbers
According to AssistedLivingToday.com, the average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home is $78,110 per year. Per year! Most people don’t have that sort of money just lying around. Yet, with family demands growing each year, there are less hours available to take care of our aging parents ourselves.
Are the elderly doomed? Is Jane supposed to surrender her guilt, knowing she can’t afford to care for the woman who stayed up at night when she was sick, gave her food, and changed her diapers, because she doesn’t have the money to see her commitment to her mother through?
No. For many, that’s not an option.
So the stress and strain of tending to the elderly becomes a financial struggle, as well as an emotional and psychological weight. With some strategy and patience, you’ll be able to overcome these hardships and do your duty as a child, without losing your mind.
3 Steps to Taking Care of Your Parents and Your Finances
1. Establish a budget.
Knowing how much you can realistically spend is paramount when you’re selecting care for your parents or grandparents. Adult day care can cost an average of $18,200 per year, a far cry from the average $78,000 per year for the semi-private nursing home room. Maybe you can handle that price tag.
Or, for a few thousand more, you might be able to afford a home health aide at an average of $19/hour. Either way, once you know what you can afford, decide on what kind of care will be best for your dollars.
2. Find the most affordable options.
There are nursing homes, assisted living, home care options, and other relatives. Obviously, help from other relatives will be the most affordable option, and if you have siblings, sharing care for Mom or Dad is a bit more bearable since their care isn’t sitting on one child’s shoulders.
When we were growing up, we told our father good night hundreds of nights before he walked out the door to go and sleep at his mother’s house. Then, when he died (and we were old enough), my mother did the same thing. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but as a family, we supported each other.
If part-time (or full-time) living-out isn’t an option, you can always have the parent come and live with you. Often, this means a lot of sacrificing and tongue-biting, but in many cases, it may be the best decision financially. Just be aware that psychologically, this is more painful, which is what makes step #3 very important.
3. Establish a listening exchange.
A listening exchange really does wonders for managing stress and frustration for parents, while offering the same benefits to children caring for their elders. This is a partnership that lets you vent and scream and release your frustrations with an objective, nonjudgmental person, so you don’t take these feelings out on the already struggling parent. It’s a healthy way to balance your fights so you can be present, engaged, and supportive for those who need you most: your family, parents, and children.
Here’s how a listening exchange works. Find a partner who can be objective and supportive. Agree to meet on the phone or in-person on a regular basis (once or twice a week – or more if needed). Split the time, and use a timer to define your limits. Start each session discussing something good that happened since the last session, then talk or cry until your time is up. When the timer rings, end the session asking what you can do to become present for those you’re caring for. Then, it’s the next person’s turn – it’s a partnership, remember?
Being a good listener means listening with support, not judgment. Say things like, “You’re doing great. You’re going to figure out what you need to do; you’re so close.” And so on. You’ll find the listening exchange to be as valuable as the money you’re saving on care by living with your parent. Or as valuable as the money you’re spending by having them stay in a quality nursing facility, because that certainly comes with its share of guilt and anxiety, too.
Have you cared for an aging parent? What have been your biggest struggles?