Taking Care of Mom
Our special report on caring for your elderly parents was literally a labor of love for our staff. A number of my Kiplinger colleagues are grappling with that very challenge, and the experiences they shared around our conference table form the core of our report. To add their personal notes to the story, I asked what advice they would give readers in similar circumstances.
For managing editor Barbara Marcus, who lives in Maryland, using a geriatric care manager has been a lifeline in caring for her 87-year-old mother, who still lives in her Bronx apartment with a full-time caregiver. “I needed to put things in place so I could sleep at night,” says Barbara. She likes the convenience of working with an agency—which handles paperwork and tasks such as supervising the caregivers—and found one via word-of-mouth through her family’s neighborhood network. Online bill-paying has also been “a godsend,” says Barbara, as long as you have power of attorney over your parent’s accounts. One warning: When a parent comes out of the hospital or rehab, you don’t have much time to make arrangements. “We begged the social worker for more time, and we were able to hire a caregiver in about a week.”
For senior editor Mark Solheim, the critical moment came in 2010, when his parents, then in their eighties, decided to move from Florida, where they were settled in an independent-living community, back to their former home in Madison, Wis. As a result of that impulsive decision, says Mark, “things quickly spun out of control.” Both parents suffered from depression, and it took months to find a new psychiatrist who accepted Medicare. Their bank didn’t have a branch in Madison, and the credit union they joined had a clunky online system that his father couldn’t manage. Mark backed him up, but his father balked at the loss of independence.
Mark and his siblings found that little things were invaluable—such as finding a local pharmacy that would manage their parents’ prescriptions for $28 a month. Mark’s father recently passed away; his mother is still living at home with help from a home-care provider who works 15 hours a week for $24 an hour. “She’s our eyes and ears,” says Mark.
He wishes now that he had had a conversation with his parents ten years earlier to set up arrangements (see The Money Talk You Must Have). Plus, he says, he wouldn’t have let them move.
Paying the bills. Finances are an inevitable concern. In Mark’s case, his parents had a long-term-care policy that eventually kicked in after his father developed dementia and entered a memory-care facility. In Barbara’s case, the money is coming from her mother’s own resources. Senior editor Jeff Kosnett is paying the bills for a care-management company to provide for his mother’s health needs in Florida. So far he’s happy with the care, but the bills are significant. To control costs, he has negotiated an arrangement under which the company holds his monthly expenses to about $500.
My colleagues believe that the peace of mind is worth the cost. After watching a close friend handle his mother’s care, contributing editor Kathy Kristof recommends that you “err toward spending what’s necessary to maintain a good quality of life for your parent. If you run low on funds, it will be tough, but you’ll find a way to manage.”
My advice: Remember that your parent always needs a health care or financial advocate. When our mother, now deceased, was in assisted living, my sister took the lead in monitoring her care because she was on the scene. I served as backup, and when necessary we spoke to care professionals with one voice on Mom’s behalf. I hope we passed on that lesson to our children.