The cost of keeping an aging parent at home

It’s a very common wish: To age at home, rather than in a nursing home or other facility for seniors. I know it’s what my mother hopes for herself (we’ve talked about it) and when I think decades down the road, it’s what I hope for, too. Doctors explain that there are two main reasons that get in the way of this goal. The first is loss of independence – essentially being unable to conduct the activities associated with daily living (bathing, dressing, using the toilet, feeding yourself, etc.). The other is a measure of general health that geriatric specialists call “reserve” or “physical reserve” – essentially how able your body is to get itself through a health crisis. If you have the ability to tap into your physical reserves, you can overcome a virus or a cold. If you don’t have the ability, that virus can turn into pneumonia and land you in the hospital. If you break a hip and have extensive reserves, you can more likely deal. If not, you can end up in a nursing facility.

It helps, therefore, is to outfit the home with an eye toward dealing with both of these factors: maintaining independence, and lessening the sort of accidents and incidents that can tap reserves. Here are the items to put on your to-do list.

  1. Conduct a safety assessment. Hire an occupational therapist to walk through the home and point out accidents waiting to happen. Throw rugs, for example, are a common culprit. They can slip and your parent can fall. A therapist will suggest getting rid of them or taping them in place. Showers and tubs without grab bars are another. And you’ll want to be sure that your folks’ home is well-lit enough so that they can see trouble coming.
  2. Put in safeguards. Those annoying ads for personal emergency response systems not withstanding, having a system in place is a good idea – the newest devices don’t have to be pushed, they sense when a fall happens. Likewise, you may want to look at newer alarms that can remind them to take their medicines on the proper schedule – the MedReady opens itself when it’s time to take a pill. If the pill is still there a half hour later, you or another caregiver can be phoned or texted. Other devices can signal an alert to someone outside the house if a pot is on the stove too long.
  3. Schedule time out of the house. Particularly if your parent is home alone, you may want to look into programs at senior centers or other places outside the house. There’s a big difference between moving out and having outside activities and even parents who balk at the former may warm to the latter. Your local area agency on aging can point you to programs in your area.
  4. Hire help for upkeep. Your parents may be able to live in their home; what they may not be able to do is keep it clean or tidy the lawn. That’s understandable. Make sure they have plenty of help coming into to take care of the chores they’re not up to doing. If your parents push back on this one, giving a housekeeper as a birthday or holiday present is sometimes more acceptable.
Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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