If you think you may someday be managing the life of a parent, you’d be well advised to get a jump on the situation before matters reach a tipping point.
For this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick bring in an outside expert to discuss one of the more fraught and complex challenges that many of us will face as adults: becoming a primary caregiver for an aging loved one. It’s a position that can sap your time, your energy, your emotions, and your finances — and that’s when things are going normally. In addition to being a pro on the subject, their guest, the AARP’s Amy Goyer, has traveled this path with multiple family members, and she has plenty of straightforward, actionable advice to share.
In this segment, she offers some tips for those who aren’t quite caregivers yet but want to plan for when they might be.
A full transcript follows the video.
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Robert Brokamp: I’m sure a lot of people hearing your story are thinking of their own parents, their own grandparents, or maybe even their spouse, siblings and thinking, “This could be in my future.” What should people be doing before they become a caregiver to get them ready for that possibility?
Amy Goyer: Well, I think about it in five steps. The first thing is to talk about it. It’s to have those conversations. And that can be the most daunting part because it’s hard for people to think ahead. It’s hard to talk about money. It’s hard to talk about care because no one wants to face the fact they’re going to die someday. I didn’t want my parents to die, either. You don’t want that, but it’s reality. Aging — it’s hard to predict how we’re all going to age. We all want to be 99 years old and still volunteering and driving. That’s our goal, but it’s not going to be the future for everyone.
So you have to start with those conversations. I always say have them early and often; often because things change. Your financial situation changes. Your needs change. Your health changes. Your living situation changes. My dad had almost no peers left. He was 94 years old. He was a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II and he had been an active member of that Veterans group. There was one member of his group that came to his memorial service, and I was so happy that he had a peer, there.
But all of that is an important part of things, so you want to have these conversations and say, “What are your wishes? What are your goals?” Nine out of 10 people want to stay in their homes at their age. So if that’s your goal, what are we going to do to make that possible? We want to talk about the financial situation. It’s one of the things people don’t like to talk about and yet you need to understand. “Do you have long-term care insurance? What is your thinking as you age?”
Talking about driving is one of the hardest things. Our wheels are our independence. You can talk about it before — long before — it’s going to happen, and it’s a lot easier to talk about. “In the far future, if you can’t drive anymore, have you thought about that? Would you rather live somewhere where you can walk everyplace? Do you want to live in a community that has transportation? Or if you want to stay in your home, how are we going to deal with that? We’re going to learn how to use Uber or Lyft, or senior transportation. We’re going to take you to church and the grocery store.” To just start talking about those things and thinking about them, because a lot of times, if we’re talking a lot about our parents, they have thoughts about it. They just haven’t told you. So have those conversations.
And then come up with a plan. OK, if these are your goals, and these are the resources we know we’re going to have, what’s our framework? Have a basic plan of where you’re going to live. Your healthcare. The quality of life issues. What kind of socialization are you going to have? And then look at your financial situation. So just a basic plan.
Now, the plan’s going to change, so be aware of that and don’t freak out about that because things change. But you have a framework. If you go back to the framework, then it helps you when those crises happen and the changes happen, so a plan is really important.
The other thing is to prepare your team. Nobody can do it alone. I mean, the thing that I have learned the most in this experience is I can do anything, but I cannot do everything.
Alison Southwick: Right.
Goyer: Like I have done things I never, ever thought I would do, believe me; but I really can’t do everything, and I had to embrace that and be OK with it because I’m pretty type A. I pretty much want to get everything done. And you can’t, so you have to build a team. You look at family, friends, neighbors. Your faith community. Doctors. Paid professionals. Volunteers. It can be a very broad team.
One example is that I’ve had to do this back-and-forth thing between Alexandria, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona. And my neighbors, here, in Alexandria I consider a huge part of my team. They mow my grass. They check my mail. I truly couldn’t have done it without that. So that’s part of your team.
And then you’ve got to have support, so the community agencies. Learn about what services are available in the community and put together what that support’s going to be, as well as caring for yourself, the caregiver. It’s always the last thing people think of. You have to realize that it’s not selfish. It’s just being practical.
One of the things that happened to me [this is a true story]. I was running on empty. My car was running out of gas. I got into the gas station and you’re just hoping you make it. And after I filled the car up and I pulled out, I thought, “You know, it’s interesting. The car actually runs differently with a full tank of gas.” It was just that “Aha!” moment of, “Oh, I’m expecting myself to run just as efficiently completely on empty at all times.” That was a turning point for me, and that’s the analogy I use in my head. OK, what am I doing to fill my tank? A lot of times it’s just a little, short thing. It’s five minutes. I’m going to get myself a cup of coffee. I’m going to call a friend. Text my boyfriend. The little things. But then you also have to do bigger things. You have to have the time. A two-hour break, let’s say. Or it might be doing something with the person you’re caring for.
Dad and I watch musicals. He loved the musicals. He enjoyed the music, then, so I picked out ones that I liked, too. That was a quality-of-life moment for me. That filled me up a bit. And then you have to take more tune-ups and you have to go for a vacation or a retreat or go someplace that fills you up. We used to go to our farm in Ohio and that always filled me up. Gave me a big fill-up. And then you have to do the routine maintenance. You have to eat well, and exercise, and go to the doctor, and do your checkups and all of the preventive stuff. And sleep. My top priority has always been sleeping.
Southwick: Oh, me too!
Goyer: Oh, gosh!
Southwick: If I don’t get enough sleep, I go crazy!
Goyer: Right. It totally robs you of your ability to cope. You just cannot. Everything is worse when you’re tired. And I’m a nine-hour-a-night person.
Southwick: Oh, I’ll take 10. If you’re going to give me 10, I want a 10!
Goyer: All right. Let’s do 12!
Southwick: Why not?
Goyer: We’ll go to 13! Those are the things. The family discussions. Preparing your team. Making a plan. Building support and then caring for yourself.