Dear Carol: My parents are in their 70s and healthy. I love them, but I’m worried because they take for granted that when the inevitable health problems begin to happen, I will be their caregiver. This even includes moving in with them.
I’m single and renting, but I’m 41 and want to buy a home, have a social life and date. My work is demanding but enjoyable, and I need the income. I think they have this attitude because my grandparents lived with us, but Mom didn't have an outside job. I will do what I can to help them, but they can’t depend on me to give up my life. I want them to understand, but how do I do that? — JY.
Dear JY: You’re a good daughter, so don’t let your parents or anyone else make you feel guilty for needing to continue work both for income and fulfillment.
No adult child should be required to move in with their parents to become a full-time caregiver unless that is their choice. Even if doing so is their first instinct, they should take time to understand the professional and lifelong financial consequences of giving up their work as well as the emotional risks of cohabitation.
This is not to say that such situations never work, but it’s good to take time with this decision. You’re right about your mom’s situation, which was once common. This point could back up your inability to become their full-time caregiver.
Start working with your parents now to map out possible strategies as they age. If your parents want to stay in their home, help them research how to make their home more accommodating. Suggest in-home care for once they need help around the house. We're hoping for more subsidized options, eventually.
If finances aren’t too tight at their time of need, hiring a geriatric care manager (sometimes called an aging life professional) could be fruitful, partly because they know about ways to find lower-cost assistance. Even paying for an hour's consultation would be useful.
As an alternative to in-home care, your parents could consider moving to a local assisted living facility. In some states, Medicaid might help with costs. See if any of their friends live in one and enjoy it since this could be a selling point. Now isn't the best time to move to such a facility, but the COVID-19 vaccine should improve the situation before long.
The idea is to help your parents be both realistic and proactive. That means approaching them with respect and asking what their priorities are as they age. Talk to them about assigning powers of attorney to you or someone else they trust. Make compassionate discussions about their future an ongoing topic. Be loving but firm.
Since you cannot quit work and are not likely to move in with them, you need to brainstorm together to find viable solutions that will allow you to help them without sacrificing your own future. This should be their goal, as well.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.