Aging is part of life and not an easy one to navigate. As an only child, you will probably be the caregiver for one or both of your parents as they age, and you’ll be on your own – no sisters or brothers to back you up. We recommend you think things through before the need arises.
Every situation is different, and every person is unique. This blog post will provide general tips to help you, but we recommend you create your own strong, caring network to support you and your family as you move through this stage of life.
Begin talking and planning early
It may be uncomfortable to talk about aging. As a child, you want to follow your parents’ wishes. Parents want to spare their children sadness and discomfort. It may help to realize that addressing these issues early is an act of love.
The situation may get even more difficult if parents feel they need to shield you from the realities of aging. Or it may be that your parents feel extremely uncomfortable with admitting to and talking about their aging. In either case, you may have to initiate the conversation.
Don’t feel you need to tackle everything at once. You can have many conversations over a long period. Do what feels natural. The important thing is that you’re talking.
Things to talk about
As we pointed out earlier, each situation is different so this list can’t encompass all the questions you’ll have. That said, here are the basics of what you’ll want to cover are:
- Living arrangements: What are their thoughts about where they live as they age? Do they want to stay in their home? Do they want to consider an independent living community for lifestyle opportunities and eliminate home maintenance responsibilities? Or, do they prefer to stay home until care is needed and then move to a care facility? Have they made some arrangements? Do they have long-term care insurance? If yes, what are the benefits of the policy and how much care will it provide?If they want to age-in-place (i.e., stay in their current home) talk about hiring help, like a professional caregiver. In advance of needing care, research the various caregiver agencies. Do not wait until care is needed to begin your research as it is almost impossible to get caregivers quickly.
- Advanced Directive: What are their wishes for medical treatment? Where are these documented?
- Power of Attorney: Have they drawn up legal documents both for financial and medical powers of attorney? Whom have they chosen to perform this function? Under what circumstances should it be invoked? Where are these documents and are they easily accessible?
Other information you should have
- How to enter their residence.
- Doctor, dentist, insurance information
- Church, minister
- Computer passwords
- Bank information
- Lawyer, accountant
- Friends, neighbors
Before you start talking to your parent(s), write down all the questions you can think of. Others may pop up over time, and that’s great. The idea is to start talking. You don’t have to cover everything in just one conversation.
Create a team
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a team to help your parent(s) move through aging. You might want to introduce yourself to your parents’ attorney, accountant, doctor, minister, and banker early on. If your parent(s) need daily assistance and/or care, you may add a professional caregiver, a home health aid, or a care coordinator to your team. You may need to get acquainted with local social service organizations that serve seniors.
Make sure to include supporters for you on your team. As an only child, you won’t have siblings to back you up, but maybe your spouse, friends, or extended family can offer support.
What’s your caregiving role?
At some point you’ll need to decide if you’ll be the primary, hands-on caregiver, the decision-maker who directs a team of caregivers, or some combination of these roles. This is an individualized decision that needs to take into account your capabilities, financial considerations, living arrangements, your family’s needs, and more.
Consider hiring help. An experienced in-home caregiver can handle a range of tasks from running errands and light housework to medication reminders and assistance with daily living tasks. You can work out a personalized care service plan that provides as much care as your loved one needs and fits your budget.
When caregiving begins
When you get to the point when your parent(s) need care, you’ll be glad you’ve done the preliminary work. But remember, perfection is NOT the goal.
Many of us strive for perfection in all we do, trying to be the perfect parent, the perfect employee or boss, the perfect child. But having perfection as your goal is a recipe for frustration and unhappiness. Life is too complex for perfection.
This is especially true if, as an only child, you’re the lone caregiver for your aging parent(s). Make decisions out of the love you feel, be kind, and don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t perfect.