When does the adult child become the “parent”?  This concept of a role reversal of the adult child/parent relationship most often plays out during the parents’ older age when responsibility is dramatically shifted, when dependency is reversed.  At the beginning of childhood, the older person takes care and charge of their young; but at the end of parental lives, the young may need to take care and charge of their old.   While you may have valid and well-intended concern for your parent’s physical, financial, and emotional well-being, your parent may deny their limitations, see your offers to help as intrusive, or an unwelcome usurping of their independence.  So, how do you know when you should take action and what action?

Age-related decline can happen quickly, and in many cases, seniors are skilled at concealing or paying down new and worsening problems. Here are just 4 warning signs:

  • Home Environment – A change in the senior’s surroundings can provide many clues as to how they are doing. For instance, a prior stickler for neatness and highly organized loved one that is now surrounded by excess clutter and piles of unopened mail may indicate cognitive problems, spoiled or no food in the refrigerator and scorched pots and pans may mean they are having trouble meeting their nutritional needs, stock piles of expired prescription and over-the counter medications may mean they are not taking medications as prescribed, and an overflowing hamper and dirty bathroom may mean they lack strength to do housework. It may be time to discuss if they need more help at home to keep them safe.
  • Weight loss– One of the obvious signs of physical or mental ill health is weight loss. If weight loss is evident, you should talk to your loved one about your concern and schedule a doctor’s appointment as causes of weight loss can range from cancer to dementia, depression, or medication. For seniors living alone, shopping for and preparing nutritious meals and clean up may simply take too much energy.
  • Changes in Balance and Mobility– A reluctance to walk, changes in gait or pain can be a sign of neurological, joint or muscle problems. If a loved one is unsteady, they may be a fall risk which can cause serious injury and complications in seniors. You should schedule an appointment with their physician to discuss causes and options to keep them safe and mobile, such as physical therapy and mobility aids. You should also consider making the home safer by removing tripping hazards, like rugs, and putting in grab bars in bathrooms. If safety is a significant concern it may be time to consider more help at home, or assisted living.
  • Emotional Wellbeing. Changes such as withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in hobbies may signal depression which is common but often untreated among seniors. Changes in basic home maintenance and personal hygiene can also be an indicator of dementia or other physical ailments like dehydration. Sudden odd behavior, such as disorientation or agitation, can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). A call to the doctor, again, is warranted with these symptoms.

If your parent could not manage their own affairs, will you or someone responsible have legal authority to handle matters for them?  Note, if there is early stage cognitive impairment time is of the essence to get important legal documents signed.

  • Healthcare Decision Makers. If your parent does not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney, Mental Health Care Power of Attorney, and Living Will then now is the time to establish them. The purpose of these documents is to nominate persons to make medical decisions in the event the parent is unable to communicate and make their own decisions, and provide direction as to end of life medical treatment. Having these documents means in the event of crisis, agents your parent choose are able and ready to step in instead of risking family dissent about care and/or requiring the Court to get involved. You should also ask if they are willing to sign a medical release so you or others in the family can talk with their medical providers from time to time.
  • Financial Decision Makers. If your parent could no longer make wise financial decisions, do they have a financial power of attorney and/or Trust in effect to allow someone to continue paying their bills and handling investments? Again, without proper documents your family could end up at court.
  • Review Will and Trust. Often, people are nominated in various roles and those individuals have passed away, moved away or are no longer in a condition to assist in time of need. Additionally, beneficiaries may have passed away, been born or relationships have changed, such that the estate plan may be outdated and no longer comport with your parent’s wishes. The Will and/or Trust should be reviewed every few years and updated as needed.
  • Organize important papers and financial records. Where are your parent’s important papers of life such as birth and marriage certificates, legal documents, bank statements, deeds, etc., and would have access to them when necessary? Do you know what assets and accounts they own, or who their estate planning attorney, tax accountant, financial advisor, insurance brokers, bankers, and medical providers are?  Now would be a good time to review this information with them. Even if your parent does not wish to divulge information now, you can ask they organize it for you in case you need it later. Contact info@bivenslaw.com to request our Free Private Information Guide (1 per person) for this purpose.
  • Discuss long term care plans. If your parent needed long term care (e.g. home health, assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing care), do you know how and where they would like to receive care? What can they afford?  Would your parent qualify for government programs, such as VA Aid & Attendance Pension or Medicaid long term care (Arizona Long Term Care System), to help pay for long term care expenses? Do they wish to protect assets against the cost of long term care? We can help your family to prepare for and protect assets against the cost of long term care.

The key to facilitating the role reversal is to be observant and talk with your parents to learn their wishes, provide them with information, bring in other professionals such as caregivers, care managers, medical professionals, attorneys, financial advisors, etc., as needed, and view your role as advocate, rather than boss. It is an honor to be able to give back to a parent, and help them when they need it most. We are here to help you, help them.