Lessons Learned in Caring for an Elderly Parent

The mortgage industry may be what brings us together, but there are many other aspects of life we all have in common.  One area of life we share is the caring for our parents in their later stages of life.  I would like to share with you my experience concerning this and ask others who have or are dealing with the care of their parents to share their experiences to help others prepare with this part of life.

I have been doing my best to care for my 95-year-old father, living on his own in San Antonio, TX while living and working in Denver, CO.  My father is a widower and is suffering from dementia.  He will not move to Colorado and will not move into any type of assisted living or nursing facilities.  Last year I was with him over 4 months out of the year, a week here… 10 days there.  It changes your ability to make a living and causes a financial drain with traveling and supporting your family.

I wish I had sat down with my father years ago and discussed his finances, his wishes, and needs – my wife urged me to do so.  He was doing fine.  I thought there was no need and put this off.  But, in a New York minute, situations and urgency change everything.

I am writing this to share in hopes others will also share experiences and provide some form of guidance.

My stepmother passed away in 2011.  My step-sister, since that time, has been a God-send in helping me and visiting my father.  She would spend a day with him every week, take him on doctor appointments, drive him around town to get out of the house and take him to her home on holidays that I could not be there.  But, that changed when she and 3 generations of her family were gunned down in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX on November 5, 2017.  Her name was Karla Holcombe – she is incredibly missed.

I have been paying all my father’s bills for the last 5 years and am jointly on all accounts.  My father’s wishes have always been to pass in his home.  But, physical and mental health can sometimes, as well as, distance cause issues to honor our parent’s wishes.

Let me share some of the issues:  solicitors preying on him for donations, Realtors wanting to sell his home, scammers trying to sell everything, fake bill collectors, home cleaners stealing, hearing loss, not eating, falling down, leaving the stove on and trying to heat up his dinner plate, loneliness,  new roof from hail damage, not taking his medication, short-term memory loss… and the list goes on.  But, I would not trade any of these issues or others that will occur for me caring for my father.  He’s the only father I have, and I love him.

Please take the time, make your parents take the time, to discuss their desires when they are unable to function on their own.  Do it sooner than later.  Get involved in their finances to prepare for the costs.  Assisted living starts at $2,600/month for a basic studio, but if they have meals prepared or someone to clean, the cost just increases.  The cost can escalate to $4,000-$10,000/month, very quickly.  Check into a long-term health care plan and buy them now.  Get as much coverage as you can, costs will only escalate.  Medicare does not go far and as far as Medicaid is concerned, you parent’s assets must be virtually nil.  Seek the advice of your CPA and attorney for setting up a trust.  In order to get full Medicaid assistance, the trust needs to be set up at least 5 years prior to applying.  But, then you must be aware of any tax implications down the road.  For example, my father’s home is free and clear, but if I put it in a trust now the most that he would receive is approximately $600/month in assistance.  When I sell the house (upon his passing) I would be hit with a 28% tax on the difference when he bought the home in 1976 and what it would sell for today – approximately $58,000.  There are local organizations who can guide you to different services, but in my case found they all wanted $2,800 (and up) just to complete paperwork and applications you can do on your own.

Meet their primary physician.  Find out what prescriptions have been prescribed.  Check online for the purpose and any side effects.

I have 4 different Power of Attorneys for my father.  You must check with an attorney who specializes in this based on your states statutes, rules, and regulations.  Don’t forget the DNR and have them recorded with the county.  Have at least 5 copies of each ready and accessible.  Make sure the caregivers have a complete set.  Why?  Because when your parent must go to the emergency room or is admitted to the hospital, they will need to have a copy at that time.  They do not keep them on file.

Reach out to your state’s health care.  Ask for their advice.  Find out what issues they have with your parents living alone if any.  Find out about your exposure and liability – yes, there can be some.

I have installed 7 cameras in his home to watch after him.  He does not know they are there.  They have motion sensors and work in the dark.  You might think I am violating his privacy, but when he has fallen I know and can get someone there quickly.  Yes, I know about the device he can wear around his neck that calls for assistance when needed, but what good is it if he does not wear it?

I have removed the doors from the rooms in his home for the convenience of wheelchair and walker accessibility.

I have installed 5 grab bars in the shower and bathroom.  You want them at least 30 inches long and installed at an angle so they can work their way up.  I have a shower seat as well.

Consider taking away the checkbook and all credit cards.  Set up auto pay on everything that you can.

Remove all firearms.  This is not a 2nd amendment issue, it is solely about safety.

I have hospice seeing my father.  Their caregiver is there 3 times a week, a registered nurse is there once a week, their social worker is there twice a month and their minister is there twice a month.  Medicare will cover this, but if he is admitted to the hospital, I have to start their paperwork again, so Medicare is not billed by 2 different organizations.

I hired a caregiver 5 days a week for at least 3 hours each visit.  This can run anywhere from $18-$30/hour depending on what you have them do.  An issue here is that you want to have the same person with your loved ones to establish a personal relationship for trust.  Companionship and interaction is a must.  Loneliness is a killer.  Please take time to research online the health caregiver organizations.  Interview the caregiver with your parents.  Find out about their experiences with your parent’s situation.  I also ask that everyone call me when they arrive and leave to keep track of hours to compare with my bill.

Another issue is medication.  The caregiver cannot take the pills out of the pill bottles.  I had to purchase those weekly pill containers and replenish them constantly.  Then health care providers can then give them their medication.  It’s a liability issue.

Have copies of their driver’s license, id cards, social security cards, wills, health insurance policies, Medicare cards, home insurance policies, life insurance policies and all contact information for everyone they come in contact with and that provide services for them.  Scan them in and have access on your computer and cell phone.  The same goes for any emergency services, utilities, water, doctors, next door neighbors, etc.

It’s also a good idea to have a lockbox on the front door with a set of keys to the house for access for the caregivers, police, fire department, ambulance and neighbors in case of an emergency and services needed.

I hope some of this can help you in caring for your parents.  He’s the only father I have and no matter what I will be there for him and do everything I can.

Written by Bart Bartholomew, an instructor with MTI.


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