Caring for an Ailing or Lonely Parent (While Balancing Your Own Life!)

Caring for an Ailing or Lonely Parent (While Balancing Your Own Life!)

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Something we’ve been encountering more often with our financial planning clients is concerns around aging parents. At Prism Planning Partners, we get to know our clients on a personal level, and inevitably, these topics come up. As households age, it’s natural for adult children to begin to step into a role where they are more involved in their parents’ day-to-day lives and, ultimately, care. It is critical to remember that YOU and your immediate family need to take care of yourselves. While we all want to do everything we can for our moms and dads, we must make sure it does not become all-consuming. How do you balance caring for an aging relative, while also balancing the many things going on in your life? 


A Lonely Parent

If you are in your mid 30s- early 50s, you may have a “healthy but lonely” older parent. Many in the retirement-planning media portray folks in their mid 60s-early 80s as “active seniors” who spend their days tackling a bucket list – doing things independently like world travel, volunteer work, and involvement with grandchildren. 

However, this ideal retirement is not something that every senior experiences – even if they have the resources. With more people living alone as they age (perhaps due to the death of a spouse) and the loss of social structures like work, it can be challenging for older adults to feel connected. Isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and an eventual decline in physical health. They may reach out to you, as son or daughter, for socialization as well as advice on the day-to-day. If boundaries are not set, this can cause YOU to worry and, possibly, feel burdened. 

What is an appropriate balance to strike? 

  1. Set a boundary and a schedule. Set limits around when you can talk on the phone with your parent, or schedule a time weekly to meet. Be clear with your boundary – for example, stating that you can’t talk during business hours is a perfectly reasonable request. Encourage your parent to plan an activity for when you’ll be together. For example, perhaps you can visit a museum or see a movie together -and empower your parent to take charge. It will give mom or dad something to look forward to and hopefully encourage a new interest. If you’re busy with family commitments, have your parent tag along – and even help with tasks at your house! Feeling useful will give them a sense of purpose, and be a huge help to you.
  2. Help them reach out. Connecting with the outside world is especially important if your parent has recently lost a spouse. Your mom or dad may have received an influx of support right after their spouse passed away. However, months or years later, sometimes that support can dwindle and isolation can creep in. Encourage your parent to reach out to their friends, join a club or gym, and just do whatever they can to get out of the house every day, ideally in a group setting. Sitting at home and watching TV is a recipe for loneliness. They should have scheduled activities every day, in addition to bigger things to look forward to (such as vacations, concerts, etc). You might suggest completing our Week in Retirement planner with your parent. As well, helping them look up activities online could be a great way to help – local senior centers or community colleges have numerous programs. 


An Ailing Parent

A somewhat more challenging situation is when a previously healthy, active parent suddenly becomes more frail. If you’re in your 50s or 60s with a parent in their 80s or 90s, there’s no doubt that you’re concerned about your parent’s physical and mental health, especially when a parent suffers from conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, or a stroke. 

It’s no surprise that caring for a loved one can become a full-time job, and will more than likely involve a lot of work – from the ENTIRE family. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. Involve Everyone. Make sure that your siblings and anyone else of relevance in your parent’s world are involved and informed about their changing health status, including their medical, legal and financial team. Clear communication is of critical importance to avoid confusion or conflict. Some clients have chosen one trusted person to serve as a family liaison around making important decisions and working with a parent’s professional team. Hopefully, your parent can select that individual, or optimally, spell it out in an estate plan. 
  2. Know Your Parent’s Wishes. As soon as you suspect something might be amiss with your parent, it’s important to make sure they can communicate their wishes to all relevant parties. This means making sure, for example, that you and any other siblings/family members may need to have some unpleasant, but important, conversations around care desires, finances, and eventual funeral plans. If your parent has completed an estate plan and has a financial/legal team in place, it’s advisable to meet with those professionals as a family. This way, everyone involved can be on the same page – and hopefully, avoid conflict.
  3. Take Care of Yourself and Ask for Help. If you’ve been selected to take on a primary caretaker role, it’s of critical importance to make sure you’re caring for yourself. Do not make caretaking your full-time job. You have work, family, social and personal obligations to handle – in addition to now caring for an ailing parent. Delegate tasks to others– for example, another family member can attend a routine appointment if you are unable. Ensure you have a good understanding of your parent’s finances and insurance so you can help use these resources to pay for necessary care. Don’t be afraid to lean on professionals and community resources. Make sure you’re socializing with friends, going on vacation, attending to your own health, and taking time for hobbies that bring you joy. 

The entire team at Prism Planning Partners has, unfortunately, experienced familial caretaking challenges countless times – both personally and with clients. We have an immense amount of empathy for you as you go through this trying time. Please know that you will find a rhythm, and you’re doing something extraordinary for those you love the most. 


What other tips or ideas do you have? We’d love to hear from you – reach out to us. 


Need help with retirement planning in Libertyville, IL? Reach out to Prism Planning Partners for support with investment management and diversification. You are not alone!