Dear Mrs. Riches:
My dear mother is in her early 80s and has been living alone since my father died 10 years ago. She recently had a fall that landed her in the hospital for nearly a week and clearly is in no shape to stay on her own unattended.
My three siblings and I can't decide what to do. One brother, balking at the expense of in-home care, said she can stay at his house and that the other three of us can just contribute to the cost of her care. Another thinks it will kill her to move again and that we should just make her apartment safer and pay for a service that she can call in case of emergency. I frankly think both ideas are motivated by monetary concerns more than an honest assessment of what would be best for our mother.
While there's no outright hostility among the siblings, I am afraid that this situation has the potential to blow up. Everyone's emotions are a little raw. I would love to get any ideas you may have about how to proceed.
-- Looking Out for Ma
Dear Looking Out for Ma:
When you're faced with how best to care for an aging parent, emotions can naturally run high. Confronting the mortality of a loved one who once seemed invincible is harder than most people expect. It's important to remember that each of us handles stress and worry in different ways, so don't make overly harsh judgments about your siblings and their motivations just yet.
In fact, it sounds as though you are feeling pressured to make a permanent decision based on very little information. I would suggest that you and your siblings take a collective deep breath, retreat from long-term decision-making, and spend some more time gathering facts and consulting resources.
The resource you most need to consult is your mother. Having a physical infirmity doesn't mean that she's mentally incapable of participating in her care plan. In fact, it's crucial that you afford her as much dignity, control, and voice in the process as you can. It's likely, should you ask her, that she has her own ideas about where she will spend her twilight years and may even have planned for this eventuality, financially or otherwise.
So that you don't tire your mother with four separate conversations, you may want to choose one of the siblings as a delegate to talk with her and find out what she would like to do. The delegate should listen more than he or she speaks and should be patient and respectful. This is the time to gather information, not to argue or critique.
I would also suggest that between you and your siblings, you take these steps:
- Consult your mother's physician to find out what level of care is medically recommended.
- See whether the hospital has any patient-education programs regarding elder-care or patient-care representatives who can direct you to resources available in your area.
- Take stock of your mother's financial situation. Locate important documents, determine whether she has sufficient funds to pay for her care, and investigate what kinds of federal and state programs (Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps, among others) can offer assistance.
- Find out about the senior services available in your mother's area. The U.S. Administration on Aging offers an online Eldercare locator, or you can call toll-free at (800) 677-1116.
- Get educated about elder-care issues. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers information about caregiving and its stresses, providing guardianship, talking with health professionals, and communicating with elderly parents about their independences. The AARP can also offer guidelines for performing an assessment of your mother's functioning to determine whether she can safely live independently.
- Consider consulting an elder-law lawyer if your mother will need assistance with such things as a will, a health care power of attorney, a living will, a durable power of attorney for finances, and advance directives while she still has the capacity to make such decisions.
After you have all of this information gathered, you and your siblings will be in a much better position to help your mother consider her options and to make the decision that is best for her at this time. Respectfully helping your mom find the solution that is right for her can be the ultimate show of love.
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Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor who regularly talks money with her honey, Robert Brokamp, editor of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter. To get your money and relationship questions answered, send her an email .