From Empty Nest to Full House: Preparing for Eldercare

By on July 1, 2012

By Laura Rossman –

There’s a silent evolution going on for many baby boomer women. The days of the carefree empty nester are disappearing.

In its place: the full house (figuratively or literally). More women in their 50s are finding their responsibilities expand rather than contract: elder care responsibilities, continuing responsibility for adult children; help raising grandchildren; and, worry about your own financial future. No wonder we’re feeling tired and more than a bit overwhelmed.

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Because the roles we spent a lifetime perfecting suddenly get turned upside down. Let’s take a look at eldercare. Going to visit Mom and Dad is no longer about fitting into the familiar role of being the child. Suddenly you’re thrust into the role of parenting your parents with no road map for how this should work and quite often parents who are no better prepared for the role reversal.

I joke that for years I had no idea where my parents were as they traveled, vacationed and visited friends. But after my father’s debilitating stroke almost overnight I knew not only exactly where they were, but struggled with them to make decisions about life changes ahead. None of us was prepared for this change in relationship. We could have been.

Preparing for Eldercare

There are over 45 million caregivers in the country caring for people over the age of 50. With baby boomers aging and continued advancement in medical care that number is expected to continue to climb. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her, according to AARP. She is married and employed and more than a third have children or grandchildren under the age of 18 living with them.

So what can you do to be better prepared to handle eldercare responsibilities? Here are four tips to get you and your family prepared for longer lives.

Tip 1. Talk to your parents now about what they want as they age. Don’t wait. It’s not an easy conversation, but you will be so glad you did if a health crisis hits. Where do they want to live when they can’t get around as easily? Do they have resources earmarked for care, like long term care insurance, that could help pay for care if they need it? Medicare does not pay for long term care. Government programs are available to those who are impoverished but waiting lists can be long. Is moving into your home a solution and if so what steps would you need to take to make it “senior friendly?”

Are there big do’s on their list or mandatory don’ts? Do you have the names of their doctors and where their legal documents are located? Has a power of attorney been designated? A popular document used by many planners is “Five Wishes” which helps guide a person through the financial, emotional and spiritual aspects of aging. One of the toughest aspects of caregiving is the emotional strain or guilt of wondering if you are doing what they wanted. Get their perspective while their able and healthy.

Tip 2. Don’t make promises. Know their preferences, express your commitment to that direction but don’t make promises you can’t keep. You just don’t know what lies ahead. Their health condition may be such that you can’t keep them in their own home or yours. Make sure you feel you have permission to do what’s best for all involved if they can no longer make decisions on their own. (This advice applies to spouses and siblings, too.)

Tip 3. Get your siblings onboard. Nothing rekindles sibling rivalry like talking about who knows what’s best for Mom or Dad. So try to broach the subject with your brothers or sister before a crisis hits. Get a sense of what resources each bring and the role each might play when the time comes. Ask anyone who has been through an eldercare crisis and they can tell you that the worst time to start planning and organizing is at the hospital discharge meeting.

Tip 4. Plan for Yourself. The statistics tell us that there is very good likelihood that many of us will live into our 80s and 90s. And that more than 70% of us will need some type of long term care assistance over the age of 65. Planning for long term care should be part of your financial and retirement planning. Some people have enough money to self-finance long term care which can cost upwards of $80,000 per year. Long term care insurance is another way to pay for care in the future and, the best time to buy it is when you are in your 50s and healthy. The key is to have both a long term care plan and a way to finance the care you want. That’s a great gift to give your children.

If you are considering quitting your job to care for your family member make sure you understand the financial impact on your own retirement plans (income, social security benefits, health insurance costs to name a few).

Eldercare can be an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs with loving memorable moments and unbridled frustration. Ask anyone who has been there. The good news is that by planning ahead some of the decisions will be easier and the stress less.


With over 20 years in health and senior care services, Laura Rossman heads up marketing and communications for iQuote by Longevity Alliance, an independent national insurance broker who helps seniors compare long term care & life insurance from multiple providers.

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From Empty Nest to Full House: Preparing for Eldercare