How to Prepare to Take Care of Aging Family Members

Nobody likes to think about the realities of their family members getting older. Watching your parents and grandparents visibly age can be a difficult experience – especially as their physical health begins to decline. But if you want to improve their health outcomes and set yourself up for a better experience, it’s important to make preparations.

Preparing Financially

It may be in your best interest to help your relatives prepare financially. Healthcare can get more expensive as a person ages; they often need to attend more appointments and take more prescription medications.

  • Pay attention to insurance and medical programs. Make sure your relatives are enrolled in some kind of healthcare program. For example, according to FreedomCare, you can see whether your grandparents qualify for programs like Medicare or Medicaid. They may also qualify for insurance through their employer or another program. These forms of insurance and healthcare assistance can greatly reduce the cost of some services – and completely pay for things like preventative care. Applying takes some time, though, so make sure you do it before you need it.
  • Take an assessment of income and financial status. Most people aren’t especially comfortable talking about their finances, but it’s important to help your relatives figure out where they stand financially. How much do they have in savings? Do they have an emergency fund that could cover unexpected medical expenses? What’s their primary source of income?
  • Confront the realities of long-term care. It’s also important to acknowledge the eventual possibilities of long-term care. If your relative suffers a health setback or is no longer able to live on their own, they may need to live at a healthcare facility permanently or semi-permanently – which can be expensive if you’re not prepared for it.

You can also work on improving your own financial situation if you’re going to be financially assisting your relatives.

Preparing Yourself Mentally

It’s important to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally as well.

  • Spend time with your family members. While your relatives are still healthy and relatively young, spend some extra time with them. You never know how much time you have – and you don’t want to live with any regrets.
  • Understand the journey ahead. Do your research and understand the aging process. Become familiar with the physical and mental changes that your relatives will go through – and process how you’re going to feel when that happens.
  • Talk openly. Talk about how you’re feeling with friends and people you trust. Having a robust network of social support can make you feel better – and potentially provide you with advice on how to handle what’s to come.
  • Think carefully about your own priorities. What are your priorities as your relatives begin to age? Is it important for you to help out however you can? Are you willing to contribute financially? How much time do you have to spend? These are hard decisions to make, so it pays to make them in advance.

Preparing Your Family Members

Talk to your family members about the future. You’ll learn more about their perspectives and help prepare them for what’s to come.

  • Have a frank conversation. These topics aren’t easy to discuss, but they’re very important. Explain why this is important to you, ask questions, and provide honest perspective.
  • Discuss desires and possibilities. What do your relatives want in the coming years? What are their goals and priorities? What do they want you to do to help them?
  • Explain the support you can provide. Be upfront about your boundaries and limitations. Explain the ways you’re willing to help and the hard limits you’re not willing to cross.

Preparing the Environment

You can also take measures to adapt your home for senior living. Working on this proactively can spare you a lot of stress and make the aging process much easier to accept.

  • Mobility and accessibility. Work on making the house as mobile and accessible as possible. As you get older, it becomes harder to climb stairs and safely enter and exit the shower.
  • Activities and stimulation. Are there plenty of opportunities for ongoing mental stimulation and physical activity? It can help to have more activities around the house to keep the mind occupied, like puzzles or houseplants.
  • Companionship. If you have a relative who lives alone or if you don’t have many opportunities to spend time with them, consider helping them find new companionship. Depending on the situation, you can help them make friends with their neighbors or get them a pet they can form a close bond with.

The Near Future

In the coming months and years, you can work on the following:

  • Monitor for behavioral changes. Sudden behavioral changes can be a sign that something’s wrong. Pay attention to how your relatives speak, how they pay attention to you in conversation, and how they’re feeling. If you notice that they’re struggling to remember things on a regular basis or if they go through volatile mood swings whenever you talk, it’s a sign that you should get help.
  • Check infrequently. Check-in frequently and increase the frequency of your check-ins as your relatives get older. Talk to them and ask how they’re feeling. Ask if they’ve had any difficulties lately and what their top concerns are. It may also be a good idea to visit their house and see if everything’s in reasonable order; some people aren’t proactive or open enough to ask for help when they need it.
  • Stay apprised of other changes. Be watchful and mindful of other changes that unfold for your relatives. For example, they may reach a certain age or a certain income level that allows them to change their healthcare benefits plan. The situation may change rapidly, so you need to be ready to deal with that.

It’s not fun to think about the declining health of your aging relatives, but if you’re caught unprepared, the consequences will be far worse. Be proactive and conscientious in the coming months and years, and both you and your family members will have a much easier time.