The good news: Thanks to modern medicine and better diets, people are living longer. On the flip side, health can decline for many years before one's demise.
That means adult children often find themselves thrust in a caregiver role for a disabled or chronically ill parent while juggling the demands of a career and their own families.
At some point during 2007, an estimated 52 million adults provided in-home care for an aging parent at an average out-of-pocket cost of $5,531, according to a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Your loved one likely means the world to you. But there may come a time when you'll have to find an alternative care strategy for your elder parent. It's a process that many find tough to navigate.
Resources for parents
- What you should do first
- Daily money manager
- Geriatric care manager
- Part-time caretaker
- Home health aide
- Adult day care
- Personal care homes
- Assisted-living facility
- Skilled nursing facility
"Not knowing where to turn ... is the primary cause of stress in the lives of children," says Suzanne Hall, vice president of The Financial Consulate, based in the Baltimore area.
Some elder parents only require someone to pop in on them a few times a week to help them run errands while others require around-the-clock supervision.
In between are numerous elder care options that vary in price and level of care. Choosing one requires thoughtful consideration of your parent's financial and medical situation.
What you should do first
The best time to discuss care options with your parents is long before care is needed -- prior to the development of cognitive or physical disabilities.
That's also the time to make sure that your parents have their financial affairs in order, including wills, trusts, powers of attorney and health care proxies. These are all components of an estate plan.
"The best time to do these is when you don't need them," says Stephen J. Silverberg, a certified elder law attorney who practices in East Meadow, N.Y. "You don't want to rush around when a tragedy occurs or someone gets sick and you have to first get a document signed in order to treat them."
At the very least, Silverberg suggests having some form of durable health care proxy in place. This document designates who has the authority to make medical decisions if your parent is incapacitated.
Setting up powers of attorney will enable someone to pay bills and take care of your parent's financial affairs if necessary.
If you decide to enlist the help of financial managers or caregivers, make sure they are licensed and trained to work in their particular fields and don't skimp on background checks. Trust your instincts and make sure that you and your parent are comfortable with the services received from an elder care provider.
The Administration on Aging has a National Family Caregiver Support Program that provides information about respite services, support groups, local resources and much more.
Daily money manager
Hiring a money manager to help your parent pay bills and understand financial statements may make sense if you don't have the time to do it yourself.
A money manager can be a friend, relative, volunteer or a financial professional. They can be an authorized user of a credit card or bank account, or they may be someone who simply receives copies of bills and statements to ensure your parent is paying on time.
On the upside, there's less chance that your parent's credit will be ruined if bills are paid on time, but don't expect much else if your money manager doesn't have formal financial training.
A professional money manager, on the other hand, may be able to negotiate with creditors and organize tax records and other paperwork on your parent's behalf, in addition to managing daily finances.
The costs can be low if a relative or a friend helps out, but assistance from a professional ranges from $35 to $100 per hour, depending on geographic area, according to the American Association of Daily Money Managers. Low-income seniors may qualify for free or low-cost service through local charities or the AARP.