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Helping To Care For Aging Parents

In this article
  • Options to help the elderly grow old gracefully
  • Sources to help meet the costs of senior care
  • Plan for the high cost of long-term care
  • Research all your options

Many Baby Boomers are finding that their parents need their assistance. Statistics tell us that the segments of the elderly population needing health care from family members will continue to grow.

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, by the year 2050 the U.S. population age 65 or older will grow more than 148% from 2000 levels. And the number of Americans age 85 or older -- those needing the most intense health care -- has already more than doubled since 1980.

Looking at these statistics, you may be called upon to care for an elderly parent at some time. Luckily, there are many options available today to help your parents grow old gracefully, either in their own home or in a facility, and several ways that you can help finance the costs of the care.

The More You Know, The Better For Everyone

If your parents are healthy seniors who can look after themselves, they are eligible to enter a continuing-care retirement community that allows them to buy or rent an apartment and ensures them lifetime nursing care when it is necessary. Another option for healthy seniors is private long-term care insurance, which can partially cover nursing-home costs or, in some cases, the cost of an in-home aide.

There are a wide range of services and options available if your parent needs more substantial assistance and is not eligible for the above-mentioned services. Many families opt for moving an aging parent into their own home. If you are able to peacefully coexist with your parent, this is a good idea because the arrangement frees you from worry about the upkeep of a second home, and you and your children will have valuable time to spend with your loved one.

If You Want To Help Them Stay In Their Own Home ...

When living together is not a workable plan, maintaining your parent in his or her own home is also an option. There are, however, several fairly expensive things that you should consider doing, as needed, to help make a home environment safe and suitable for an aging person. Various safety features could be installed, including first-floor bathrooms, grab bars in hallways and bathrooms, and a personal emergency response system in case your parent needs assistance while alone. If your parent is in need of daily assistance with meals or chores, he or she can apply for several services, such as Meals on Wheels, which may be free.

If your parent needs more personal assistance, you may want to look into hiring an in-home aide at a skill level appropriate for the amount of help needed. Medicare will only pay for professional help if a physician certifies that your parent requires nursing care and if these services are provided by a Medicare-certified home health care agency. Adult day care is also an option and a good way to get your parent to socialize with other adults. Prices for day care averaged $70 a day nationwide in 2012, but reduced rates are often offered for those who cannot afford the full charge.* Call your local senior services groups and agencies to find one of the thousands of nationwide day centers that matches your needs.

Online Support for Eldercare**

Administration on Aging http://www.aoa.gov/ - A variety of print and online materials for elders, their families, and professionals regarding housing, medical, caregiving, and services for seniors.
ElderWeb http://www.elderweb.com/ - A rich collection of resources for the elderly and their caregivers on financial matters, health care, living arrangements, and social, mental, and legal issues.

Plan For The High Cost Of Long-Term Care

One of the biggest worries of those caring for an aging parent is how to pay for the care needed. If you provide more than half of a parent's support, you may be able to claim your parent as your dependent, giving you a tax exemption for each parent so cared for and allowing you to write off much of the medical expenses. (Note: The dependent exemption phases out at higher income levels. Check with your tax advisor.) You may also be able to claim a federal tax credit that will enable you to deduct a portion of the cost of in-home care or day care. Another option is the flexible spending account (FSA), which lets you pay for a certain amount of care each year with pretax dollars.

If sending your parent to a nursing home is inevitable, make sure you research each home extensively. Reservations at the home selected should be made at least a year ahead of the time that you expect your parent will need it, as waiting lists are typically long at well-respected facilities. Unfortunately, the government generally offers little in financial help for those families paying for nursing home care. Medicare will only pay for care on a short-term basis. And, with nursing home costs exceeding $90,000 a year in some parts of the country,* professional financial planning has become even more crucial to the economic well-being of adult children responsible for the care of their elderly parents. Don't wait until the last minute -- start planning now to help ensure the future care of your parents.

Publications For Long-Term Care Issues**

Caring for Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide, 240 pages, Sterling Publishing Company, 2006.

Consumer Reports Complete Guide to Health Services for Seniors: What Your Family Needs to Know About Finding and Financing, Medicare, Assisted Living, Nursing Homes, Home Care, and Adult Day Care, 592 pages, Three Rivers Press, 2000.

Some Helpful Resources To Get You Started**

There are many resources that can help you by providing valuable information and referrals. In addition to the resources listed below, your place of worship, local hospital, and senior services groups and agencies may also be helpful.

  • LeadingAge (www.leadingage.org or 202-783-2242) publishes free brochures on how to choose a nursing home or assisted-living facility, a directory of continuing-care retirement communities, and information on long-term care insurance.
  • Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org or 415-434-3388) offers information for caregiver concerns, newsletters (English, Spanish, and Chinese), and an online support group.
  • The National Alliance for Caregiving (www.caregiving.org or 301-718-8444) is a national resource center that provides information on elder-care conferences, books, tips for family caregivers, and training for professionals.
  • The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (www.n4a.org or 202-872-0888), an advocacy group for local aging agencies, offers the Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) or www.eldercare.gov, a toll-free service that puts you in touch with a local resource-and-referral organization, which, in turn, will recommend home health care aides.

*Source: The 2012 MetLife Market Survey of Nursing Home, Assisted Living, Adult Day Services, and Home Care Costs, November 8, 2012.

**AXA Advisors does not endorse these resources and is not responsible for the accuracy of this information.

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© 2013 S&P Capital IQ Financial Communications. All rights reserved.

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