How to care for your elderly parents

6 min | 11 April 2022

Janice Warman

As the pandemic hit, many adult children looked at their parents through a new lens. They realised how susceptible even the most active, independent, not-quite-elderly parents could be if faced with this fearsome virus. For some, it pushed them to consider the need to get organised ahead of time.

So, where do you start with planning for a time when your parents might not be able to look after themselves like they once did? It’s not been that long since I said goodbye to my parents. I know how hard some of these decisions can be.

It’s important to think ahead:

  1. Talk to your parents, siblings and spouse (if you have them) about what everyone would like to happen if your parents are unable to care for themselves alone in their home.
  2. Could they continue to live in their own home with assistance from a carer?
  3. Could they live with you in your home?
  4. Could they live in a retirement home, and if so, what would the cost considerations look like?

Plan ahead

In addition to the points above these questions are vital and should be answered as soon as possible:

They may well have wills, but you can suggest they check and update these. They may also want to put living wills in place, which will set out their wishes concerning medical treatment if they're unable to make or communicate those decisions themselves. With or without these, it’s important that they discuss their wishes with you, in case you have to talk to medical staff on their behalf.

Even if your parents are currently in perfect health, you may want to suggest they consult a family lawyer to help them to put Lasting Powers of Attorney in place. If they are unlucky enough to suffer one day from any sudden illness, accident, cognitive decline or dementia, it will be a lot easier for you to look after them effectively.

Powers of Attorney explained

The keys to the puzzle are Lasting Powers of Attorney, as without these, you can't presume that you will be making any decisions for your parents – that might be up to a judge. There are two types: health and welfare, and property and financial affairs. It’s likely sensible for your parents to have both, for when they may not be able to make their own decisions.

The health and welfare LPA is for making decisions about daily routine and care, medical care, moving into a care home, or life-sustaining treatment. This can only be used when the person is unable to make their own decisions. The property and financial affairs LPA is for making decisions for them about money and property, including managing a bank account, paying bills, collecting benefits or a pension, or selling their home. This can be used as soon as it’s registered, with permission.

They will need to choose one or more attorneys; either you, other family members, or trusted friends, who will make decisions on their behalf (the word ‘attorney’ in this context does not mean lawyer, as it does in the US). Once the LPA forms have been filled in, these will need to be signed by your parents and by the attorneys, and then registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, which can take up to 20 weeks. You don’t need legal help with filling in the LPA forms, but using a lawyer can ensure you get it right the first time and avoid delays. Registering normally costs £82 per LPA, which could be a small price to pay for peace of mind – and it could save you the cost of going to a judge later on.

Where will they live?

Of course, at the beginning of this time with your parents, they will be the same people you’ve known all your life, and you will be making decisions with rather than for them. One of those decisions will be whether and when they move into a care home. It’s a big step, and you may prefer to help your parents stay in their own home or move them into yours, engaging some regular help if they need it. Local authorities may be able to help with funding, depending on your parent's state of health and their assets.

If they do live with you, you are likely to have a caring role yourself. It will be important to manage your mental health as well as theirs, particularly if the burden falls more on you than on other family members.

How much do care homes cost?

The average cost of a residential care home is £704 per week, and for a nursing home it’s £888. Care homes providing specialist care, such as dementia care, will generally charge more.

How much a parent will contribute depends on what they have in savings and assets. This differs by country, as follows: England £23,250, Scotland £28,750, Wales £50,000 and Northern Ireland £23,250.

Below these amounts, local authorities will pay some or all of your parents’ costs after a financial assessment. If they have a partner or relative who is over 60 living in their house, the value of the house will be excluded from the assessment.

Talk it through

If you have siblings, talk to each other before things start to happen. What might seem like a minor injury for most people could have unexpected consequences in someone older. A GP friend talks of the cascade effect that can begin with just one injury, such as a fall, and how it can bring on other problems, often quite swiftly.

One woman I know built an extension onto her house after her active mother suffered a stroke while she was away on holiday. The daughter quickly engaged a carer to look after her mother. The mother recovered partially from the stroke and lived in the extension for many years until her death, and happily that arrangement worked for both of them.

Of course, not everyone has a great relationship with their parents. You may need to set some boundaries and decide for yourself how much help you want to offer them. You may not want them to live with you, but you may be able to help them find out what assistance is available from the local authority, for example, or help them to choose a care home.

And try to be aware of what it might be like for them to be facing physical decline. The loss of mobility, vision, hearing, memory and more might be slow and subtle, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating. As my mother said to me more than once, referencing the famous quotation often attributed to Bette Davis: "If one more person says to me, 'Getting old is not for cissies', I’ll scream!"

Sources:

  • CarersUk.org Press release 'Facts and figures'
  • Carehome.co.uk Article dated September 2021 'Care home fees and costs: How much do you pay?'

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