Becoming a Caregiver for Your Parents

According to AARP, there are 34 million Americans providing homecare to a relative over 50. With the population aging, this number will only go up, making it more likely that your parents will one day need your care.

Your life will begin to change the minute you receive the phone call informing you that your parent has fallen ill. Even as you struggle with this emotional news, you may be in the process of making plane reservations, arranging to take time off work, and/or discussing the situation with a spouse or partner.

This is no time for denial. Like the birth of a child, the first day of a new job, enlistment in the military, or the beginning of any large undertaking, becoming a caregiver is a life-changing event that should be acknowledged as such. The more quickly you accept this, the more easily you will be able to deal with subsequent crises efficiently and calmly.

Sit down with other family members to decide where the elder will now live. All affected parties should be at the family meeting, including, of course, your parent. Nobody should speak for your parent, and nobody should speak about her as though she isn’t present.

You are reading this column because your mother or father can no longer care for him- or herself. Yes, your family can place your parent in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility. But there are millions others of us who have decided to become caregivers.

Before you decide on a nursing home, consider the costs. According to the MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home and Assisted Living Costs for 2009, a private bed in a nursing home in the United States costs, on average, about $80,000 a year, or $219 a day. The average price of a shared room is about $70,000 a year, or $191 a day. According to the same report, assisted-living facilities charge, on average, about $37,500 a year, or $103 a day.

Most families pay these expenses by selling the parent’s home. When the money runs out, the elder is then eligible for one or another government program that pays nursing expenses for the indigent. The family can then walk away, leaving the senior in the hands of others for the rest of the elder’s life.

We caregivers make a different choice. We know that our parents prefer to live out the rest of their lives in dignity in their own home. Or, if this is not the best choice, then in our home. We have decided to keep our parents happy, safe, and healthy in a family environment.

What will you decide?