It’s not an easy conversation to have. The thought of being in charge of the care of the very people who taught you how to use a spoon, take your first steps, drive a car, and, well, just about everything in between, can be overwhelming — to say the least. In fact, it would be much easier to put talk of a caregiving plan for said givers of life on the to-do list for another day (preferably one far in the future). But that, dear friends, is not going to help anyone. The reality is that for many of us, life at 40, 50 or 60 will include care of a parent, and there are living arrangements, finances, legal issues and health care that need to be discussed.
But where do we start? We asked Nora Duncan, state director for AARP Connecticut, for help with just that. Her inside scoop should help you access the support available, understand the options and get you started on your journey. Remember: take it one step at a time — just as you were taught.
When is the “right” time to have “the talk” with my parents about their future?
“The right time is before anyone is sick,” Duncan says. According to AARP Public Policy Institute statistics, about 459,000 Connecticut residents spend 427 million hours serving as caregivers each year, a number that will increase as the population in Connecticut — already the sixth-oldest state in the nation, according to S&P Global Ratings — continues to age. Unfortunately, “many of the people we hear from,” Duncan says, “are those who are already in crisis, which is not where you want to be. You don’t want to have ‘the talk’ when it’s absolutely necessary.” That’s when panic starts to set in.
What if I sound like I’m after dear ol’ mom and dad’s money when I start asking questions?
“It’s all about how you approach it,” Duncan says. Most likely your parents are not going to look at it that way — or think you’re counting the days until they kick off. “When a caregiving plan is in place and financial and legal matters in order, your parents are going to be relieved that they no longer have to worry,” Duncan says. “It’s a hard discussion to have, but once you’re done you’re done and everyone can move on with their lives.” A good place to start? “I want to make sure your wishes are respected ...”
Oh, the paperwork. What are the essentials that we absolutely need to get in order?
“The more you are prepared, the less ‘legalities’ you will have to take care of when the time comes,” Duncan says. Not having to run amok searching for bills and will and insurance policies (oh, my!) will allow you to focus on the actual day-to-day care — or what Duncan calls “the important stuff.”
Let’s start with power of attorney. “We all want what is known as ‘durable’ power of attorney,” Duncan explains. Durable means that power of attorney will still be effective even if the principal becomes mentally incapacitated. Power of attorney can be limited or broad, but “either way, it’s a good idea to build in periodic reports to keep a system of checks and balances in place,” Duncan says.
An advance directive is a legal document that protects a person’s right to refuse medical treatment they do not want or to request treatment they do want in the event they lose the ability to make decisions themselves. Any or all of the four parts of the document can be completed, depending on the person’s needs: living will, appointment of a health care representative, designation of a conservator (should the court determine one should be appointed) and documentation of “anatomical gift,” i.e., proof-positive of organ-donation wishes.
And then, of course, there’s the will, which you may or may not have been threatened to be banished from at various points in life. Yes, the will is important, as is a discussion as to who will be its executor (the person who is responsible for carrying out the deceased person’s wishes), but it’s also important to be sure your parents’ choices are “reflected in both a will and any beneficiary accounts,” says Duncan. (Think life insurance, retirement, annuities…)
So I guess we’re going to need an attorney … where do I find one familiar with elder-care issues?
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) allows you to search by city and state for lawyers experienced in working with the legal problems of aging loved ones. (“It’s always important to check references as well as how an attorney rates with the Better Business Bureau,” Duncan says.) That being said, she adds, “Some of the basic documents you need to get in order for a care plan don’t necessarily require an attorney.” Power of attorney, for example, is effective as soon as you sign it in front of two witnesses and have it notarized, according to ctlawhelp.org, a website created by a group of Connecticut nonprofit legal-aid organizations that is chock-a-block with helpful legal info for elders and those charged with their care.
The Consumer Law Project for Elders (800-296-1467), a project of Connecticut Legal Services, meanwhile, works to provide free legal assistance to Connecticut residents 60 or over who have consumer issues such as medical, credit card or other debt-collection problems, financial exploitation such as identity theft or scams, and disputes involving the purchase of goods or services.
Medicare, supplemental, long-term care insurance, life … where do I turn for advice on whether my parents have the right kind of insurance?
Think college is expensive? AARP Connecticut offers a group seminar, affectionately known as the “Caregiver Roadshow,” that it regularly presents to groups across the state. A statistic that repeatedly captures everyone’s attention is this: The national average for one year’s tuition, fees, room and board at a four-year public university (in state) is $22,752. The Connecticut average for one year of nursing-home care in a private room is $162,060. Yeah, finding the right insurance is important. The good news? “You have ‘Choices,’ ” Duncan advises. Choices Health Insurance Counseling (800-994-9422, www.ct.gov/communitychoices), a nifty info hub that links individuals 60-plus and their caregivers with information and assistance about Medicare and other related health-insurance options, can and will “give you direction on what coverage is needed,” Duncan says.
Looking ahead, I’m pretty sure that my parents will want to remain at home as long as humanly possible (i.e., there may be kicking and screaming involved).
Who can help me make that happen?
The Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders (800-445-5394) offers options for individuals over the age of 65 who are at risk of nursing-home placement. Medical and non-medical support services to help with basic activities of daily living (ADL — you’ll hear this term a lot) can include: visiting-nurse services, home-health aides, homemakers, delivered meals, transportation, emergency-response systems and other services necessary to support independent living. “The program is asset tested, but if you meet the requirements, can be extremely helpful,” Duncan says.
Do I get a break?
The average caregiver in Connecticut, according to Duncan, is a 52-year-old female who works full time, has kids at home and puts in about 20 hours a week providing care on top of that. “There is a joy in caregiving,” Duncan says, but, “it’s vital that you also take care of yourself,” and let’s be honest: sometimes you need a break! The Connecticut Association of Area Agencies on Aging (ctagenciesonaging.org), a professional affiliation of all five of Connecticut’s Area Agencies on Aging, is “the state’s best — and most empathetic — gatekeeper,” for social services, nutritional services, disease prevention, health promotion and, yes, support services for caregivers, according to Duncan. These private, nonprofit planning agencies administer elderly service programs including the Family Caregiver Support Program, which offers information and assistance, counseling and support groups, education and training, respite care (there’s that break) and more.
How can AARP help?
The AARP Connecticut Resource Guide for Caregivers is available at bit.ly/aarpCTcareguide, and you can contact AARP Connecticut to request a Caregiver Roadshow for Connecticut Families seminar for your group by emailing CTAARP@aarp.org.
AARP’s national Caregiving Support Line (877-333-5885) connects you directly with an information specialist who can talk with you about services and support available in your community. You’ll find the AARP online caregiving resource center at aarp.org/caregiving and you can even download the AARP Caregiving App (aarp.org/caregivingapp) to help with that to-do list.