How to Plan for Your Parents’ Health Care Needs

As your parents age, you may need to help with critical decisions about their ongoing health care.

man with his parents

When you were a kid, your parents managed all your health care needs. They bandaged your skinned knees, sat up with you when you were sick, and took you to the doctor for check-ups and vaccinations.  

As your parents age, however, you may find yourself taking on the role of care provider — scheduling doctor visits, managing medications, and perhaps even helping them move to a community that supports their ongoing health care needs. This can be an emotional and challenging experience, especially if you're not prepared. When your parents start needing assistance with their health, how can you best help them? Anne Tinyo, National Director of Wells Fargo Life Management Services, which helps clients integrate life and wealth management solutions, offers ways to help make the journey easier.

Plan ahead
Avoid waiting until a serious medical problem, such as a fall or a major diagnosis, requires sudden action. "Most individuals will need some support with the activities of daily living as they age," Tinyo says. "It's best to plan ahead."

Talk with your parents about their wishes. Do they hope to remain in their home and age in place? Or would they like to move to a senior living community that provides support on an as-needed basis? Involving them in this important decision-making process helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and provides your parents with a sense of support during what can be a daunting time.

How do you do it? Try scheduling a family meeting with your parents and siblings so everyone is aware of your parents' desires. Make sure estate plans, power of attorney, and health care directives are all in place, and talk about which roles each family member will take on as your parents need more assistance.

"What is typically not included in monthly fees are any medical needs, such as medication assistance, nursing visits, and some non-medical needs, like assistance with personal care, transportation, and shopping." — Anne Tinyo, National Director, Wells Fargo Life Management Services

Do your homework on home care
One of the biggest challenges families face is whether aging parents will remain in their homes as they need additional assistance. Home caregivers can help seniors with a variety of tasks, including bathing, dressing, cooking, running errands, giving reminders to take medicine, housekeeping, and offering transportation to medical appointments. Geriatric care managers can also be hired to provide oversight and supervision of various home caregivers, as well as support for aging adults and families.

Be sure to take finances into account when considering home care services. In-home caregiving is typically paid for out of pocket, although seniors with long-term care insurance may be eligible for some reimbursement. And certain medical care may be covered. "If skilled home health services are needed at home, such as wound care, infusion therapies, palliative, or hospice care, they can be coordinated by a home health nurse, which may be covered by Medicare," Tinyo says.

As you investigate home-care agencies, make sure that they have the required state licenses and liability insurance, and that they do thorough background checks of all employees, including drug testing and criminal background checks.

Explore senior living options
For some aging adults, moving out of the home may be the right choice. To find the right community or facility for your parents, try to visit several different types of places. Some offer progressive steps of care — for example, assisted living for relatively independent seniors, skilled nursing for those with chronic illnesses or severe debilitation, and memory care for residents with dementia.

Start with a scheduled visit, during which you and your parents tour the facility, look in on activities, and interact with staff and residents. During your tour, notice if the facility is clean and well maintained. Observe staff members — do they treat the residents with friendliness and respect? Do the residents seem content?

Follow up with an unannounced visit a few days later. "This will help determine both a more accurate picture of day-to-day activities as well as general security of the facility," Tinyo says. Also, check with your state's licensing authority to see if there have been any licensure deficiencies or corrective actions.

Be sure to get detailed information about monthly charges, Tinyo says. "What is typically not included in monthly fees are any medical needs, such as medication assistance, nursing visits, and some non-medical needs, like assistance with personal care, transportation, and shopping."

Alice Lesch Kelly is a freelance writer based in the Boston area.

Image by iStock

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Wells Fargo & Company and its affiliates do not provide legal advice. Wells Fargo Advisors is not a legal or tax advisor. Please consult your tax or legal advisors to determine how this information may apply to your own situation. Whether any planned tax result is realized by you depends on the specific facts of your own situation at the time your taxes are prepared.

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