Do you really know what your parents want in their old age?

Along with doing our tax return and defrosting the freezer, planning for our parents’ old age is one of those ‘urgggh, noooo’ jobs we tend to put off until the last possible minute. And it’s not just the horrible thought of ma and pa descending into dodderiness that stops us from thinking about it, it’s the sheer lack of flippin’ time too. What with children to look after, households to run and careers to maintain, add an ageing, ill parent into the mix and, hello meltdown. But it is something we need to engage with – because let’s face it, often it’s the off spring who have to drive this stuff. And better to think about it now, than when the doo-doo hits the fan – what do you want for your folks when they can’t look after themselves any more? And – ahem, more importantly – what do they want? Care home, moving in with you (eeek!) or something in between? Trudi Scrivener, who has 30 years of carer experience, gives some advice. Based in Chilterns, Bucks but operating across the South-East, her in-home care provider Ashridge Homecare matches elderly clients with one-on-one live-in help. So how do we plan for our parents’ dotage?

1. Put a brew on and have the awkward conversation

It’s not the most exciting discussion to have, nor the easiest but, as with many things in life, communication is key. It’s likely that your parents have already made some plans for their future and will have their own vision of what old age will look like. And they might have strong views they’ve not shared with you. Talk about what’s important to them – being near family? Or their friendship circle? Staying in their existing home or downsizing? What about their pets or their garden? And you must all be prepared for plans to change – for example, we’ve recently provided care to a couple who had to return to the UK from their dream retirement home in Portugal as one of them had a fall and they couldn’t be looked after in their rambling villa full of steps.

2. If they’re being especially tricky…

I often hear of stubbornly independent elderly parents refusing to engage with the idea that they might need help, or saying things like, ‘I am never going into a home’. If that’s the case, try appealing to their better nature: emphasise how worried you, their dear daughter (or son), is and how it’d help you sleep better at night if you came up with a plan together. Say: ‘Please, mum, give it a try, just for me’ – that works 99 percent of the time! Also, be careful about the language you use: don’t use the term ‘carer’ too often, try ‘helper’ or ‘housekeeper’,while describing them in terms of someone helping with a few things around the house.

3. Be honest about your own lifestyle

If you have a busy life, with a young family and/or a job that’s demanding, you might not relish in the idea of looking after your parents. That can be a tough thing to admit but it’s perfectly normal. Think about how much time you honestly have to co-ordinate and facilitate care – and whether you are willing to do this. Can you/ your siblings realistically take on have the responsibility of organising GP or hospital appointments every time your parent is ill? Thinking about all this will help you work out which options are best for your family. Which brings us on to…

4. Consider all the options

In a nutshell, these are: moving in with family, a residential care home, hourly home care or live-in care. If you’re researching care homes, turn up unannounced to visit – this will give you a good sense of the realities of the care provided. And ask about staff levels to get a good indicator of things like how long your parent will have to wait to be taken to the loo. If you are looking for hourly care at home, where a carer comes in to help get a person up/make lunch/ assist with medication, then a great question to ask is whether the company does 15 minute call visits. If yes, the care quality might impacted by time pressures on the staff. Live-in care, which we do, is a fast-growing alternative – in my experience, most people want to stay in their own homes and maintain some independence and live-in care does just that, it’s also cheaper than you think and compares well to the cost of a care home.

5. Money matters

There’s no getting away from it, care can be expensive. I’d advise finding a SOLLA (Society of Later Life Advisers) accredited financial advisor to find out what options are available to you. That said, when full-time care is called for and health becomes the primary need, it could mean all care fees are covered by the NHS through a scheme called NHS Continuing Healthcare. Many people have no idea it even exists and end up paying for fees they don’t need to. Applying for funding can be complex, but there are specialist advisors who can help you through it. Everyone is entitled to request a health needs assessment which determines whether they meet the required criteria.

6. Put your care provider on your Christmas card list

Whatever option you choose, be sure to build a good relationship with the carers – it will make everyone’s life easier. You will understand the minutiae of what your parents like and need so you can pass on those tips. I always say to my clients it’s the little things that matter – with my own mum, for instance, if you make sure you serve her tea just as she likes it, you’ll go a long way in getting along together.

Written by: 91