How to Mentally & Financially Survive Taking Care of an Aging Parent

by Vincent King · 9 comments

Father & son

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? 

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Free Money Minute May 27, 2013 at 5:27 am

I am starting to head into this phase of my life. My parents and aunts/uncles are starting to get into their late 60′s and 70′s. We would seriously consider adding on to our home and taking care of them ourselves. We could add a nice addition for $78k per year.

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Tushar @ Everything Finance May 27, 2013 at 6:21 am

I can only imagine how difficult this is, especially for families with children, who are also expensive. Hopefully parents have done their due diligence and have saved up enough to help their family members out. I would not hesitate to take my parents in.

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Ree Klein May 27, 2013 at 12:14 pm

What a difficult subject. One that has been creeping up on me for some time. My mother lives by herself now but it’s getting to the point where she needs more and more help. She’s about an hour and a half drive away.

Our lifestyles are so different that I fear we would be at each other’s throats all the time. We agree that we don’t want to spend the time we have left being mad at each other all the time. So, I’ve got her on waiting lists at several senior apartments that are close to me.

I think it’s best for her to keep her independence for as long as possible and by moving her close to me, I can go over and help (or sleep over) as much as is needed. Cross you fingers that plan works out!

Ree

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zimmy@moneyandpotatoes.com May 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

When I was younger I used that think that my mother would never get “old” but now it seems that older age is upon her. We live in different states which makes the possibility of caring for her a logistical nightmare. I know having to care for her is no longer a question of if it will happen but when it will happen, I just need a plan in place before it does happens.

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Thomas | MADD Finances May 28, 2013 at 4:53 am

While I am not there yet my wife and I are definitely having to think about what we are going to do with our parents. Neither side really saved any type of money for retirement. With that being said we are working on a plan to help them as much as we can and if possible have them move closer if not in with us. Never heard of a adult daycare and we certainly don’t want them in a nursing home. The sharing would work and we looked as 4 months rotation with the kids but we live in Florida and would probably be best for weather.

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Steven J Fromm May 29, 2013 at 6:09 am

This is such a hard problem. While my parents have long and short term care insurance, they have not used it yet. My dad just turned 89 and I call him every morning. But I am far away from him so I worry a lot. I know things may get rough in the future so I must be prepared emotionally for what is to come. In the meantime, I try to enjoy and savor every conversation I have with him and my mom.

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Property Marbella May 31, 2013 at 12:47 am

In Sweden, it is free with the nursing home, but many elderly people live at home with their adult children and help with babysitting, children doing homework etc.

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Jackie | Manchester NH Assisted Living March 27, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Taking care of an aging parent is no simple task. Whether it’s your parents, a grandparent, aunt, uncle or a cherished friend you’re looking out for, the responsibility can absolutely wear on you. I would certainly recommend that anyone going through this look into assisted living and home care services in your local area.

- Jackie

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Carolyn April 16, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Unfortunately, the long-term care insurer of last resort, Medicaid, generally covers only care in a Medicaid-certified nursing home. You must qualify medically as well financially. It can be a fine line between assisted living and skilled nursing care in terms of type of care. But financially they are very different. Unless you can get a state Medicaid waiver, assisted living is private pay.

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