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Am I My Parent's Keeper?

By Gina Botshtein, M.S.W., A.P.S.W., Vice President, Older Adult Services

Many people make the mistake of describing the aging process as “coming full circle,” as if the older community requires the same level of care giving and decision making by a loved one just like that of a child.  This comparison is not accurate.  Children do not have a lifetime of experiences that developed their choices and preferences.  Children do not have a base of comparison and have not been responsible for themselves and others in the same way an adult has been.

While some seniors may become the responsibility of their children and may require assistance with basic tasks, they have earned the right to be treated with dignity, respect and to have their wishes honored and implemented.  As adult children, we are our parents’ keepers.  We must remember that one day we, too, will age and may need assistance from our children. 

So when does one begin to plan to be the best “keeper” possible?   Now. 

Talking about options

Adult children need to start talking with their parents about their options, preferences and wishes as their parents age and before there is a crisis. One never knows when it may be too late to ask the very important questions. One of the most important steps in pre-planning is to complete a Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care. This POA allows the older individual to designate a person they trust to make decisions regarding their health and medical care when they are no longer able to make those decisions. By starting this conversation with loved ones, basic wishes are revealed and should be documented for the “keeper” to honor.  

While many older individuals often focus on health issues, another critical topic is housing.  Important decision making includes the desire to remain in their own home, move to assisted living, or identify if there is a preference for a certain group home or nursing home in which they would like to reside if needed.  As the baby boomer population ages, there are many new facilities under development which offer a combination of services in one location.  Deerwood Crossing, an affordable housing apartment complex in Brown Deer, is a 66-unit independent living facility with an “assisted living overlay” for individuals over the age of 55. This means that as a person’s needs change, the services selected will be provided in your apartment – you truly age in place. 

An important checklist

Planning and discussing options for housing, does not mean that your loved one will ever need to move from their home, but having a plan in place is vital to respecting and honoring our parents’ wishes.  Here is a check list of some things that should be completed with a parent who is still active and able to make his/her wishes clear and known:

  • Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Power of Attorney for Finances
  • List of important things and where they are kept (checkbook, will/trust documents, important paperwork, extra keys, safety deposit box)
  • Options for housing, if parent is unable to live independently.
  • List of current medications, physicians, allergies or other medical concerns.
  • Parent wishes/opinions about experimental treatments.
  • Quality of Life Issues discussion (how they want to spend their day, what they like and don’t like to eat.)

While some questions can seem painful or difficult to raise, it is always better to know the wishes of your parents in advance than to assume what we want is what they would want for themselves.

For example

Sara is a Jewish Family Services client with no family or close friends. She was worried about who will take care of her when she is no longer able to care for herself. She engaged JFS to work with her and create a plan for her future. As part of our Care Management program, we make sure that Sara’s wishes have not changed and are meeting her long term needs and desires. While Sara took it upon herself to plan for her future, many of our older adult clients trust their loved ones to make decisions for them. We recommend that you become your “Parents’ Keeper” and learn what their wishes are and help them plan ahead for their future. Many agencies who serve the elderly, like Jewish Family Services, are able to help in the planning process and are trained to facilitate these difficult conversations.