Almost 18 million American adults currently care for aging parents or another relative over the age of 65. Being a caregiver can be an incredibly difficult time in a person’s life – emotionally, financially and physically – but there is help available.

If you’re a caregiver to an elderly parent now or will likely be one in the future, you might need help with organizing and tracking their health care needs and medical information, learning how to navigate in-home care and accessing financial assistance. Read on to learn how we can help you navigate this change!

How to plan or prepare for taking care of elderly parents

Assisting your parent or relative in their health care journey can seem daunting, but you have many options available to you. If you’re preparing to take care of a senior parent, there are some things you need to know to ensure they’re getting the health care they need.

Become a health care proxy

Most seniors are perfectly capable of making their own health care decisions – and self-autonomy is important. But if your senior parent can’t make decisions about their care or struggle to define and advocate for their needs, it might be time to step in as a health care proxy. This is usually the best course of action for those caring for loved ones experiencing symptoms of dementia or other cognitive issues.

As a proxy, you’ll be able to access your parent’s medical information and make health care decisions on their behalf. For most proxies, depending on the state in which you live, this can include:

  • Making choices about medical procedures and services
  • Finding the right health care providers
  • Having access to important medical and hospital records

To become a proxy, you will need your parent to legally declare you as their durable power of attorney. Most states have their own forms you must complete, and in some cases, you will need a witness. To get started, you can head to your state’s official website to learn more or begin this process. Once your form has been submitted and accepted, contact your parent’s medical provider and insurance plan so they know you’re a primary contact.

How to track and manage your parent’s health care information

A key factor to ensure your aging parent gets the care they need is getting and staying organized. This means devising a system to keep track of their health care history, medicines, health care provider information, insurance information and contacts.

There are many ways you can do this. For the more tech-oriented, this might be as simple as creating a spreadsheet containing all the information you need to know. If you’re more of a pen and paper kind of person, keeping track of all this information in a binder is an option. Information you should have organized and on-hand includes:

  • A comprehensive archive of your parent’s medical records
  • Copies of test and lab results
  • A detailed tracking of current conditions and possible symptoms
  • A list of medicines and pricing, including past medicines
  • Provider, pharmacy and insurance contacts
  • Hospital discharge summaries
  • A copy of your durable power of attorney (if you’re a health care proxy) or any advance directives

If you’re the health care proxy, you can access your parent’s medical information online. Most providers offer an online patient portal where you view and track medical history and look for doctors or specialists.

Common difficulties for caregivers of elderly parents

As most caregivers can attest, taking care of a senior parent or relative can be an around-the-clock job. Most caregivers run into similar challenges and tasks providing care whether they live with their parent or not. As an at-home caregiver, you may need to:

  • Attend and organize doctor appointments
  • Manage hospital visits and discharges
  • Access transportation to and from health care services
  • Monitor your parent’s mental health care
  • Get your parent to comply with taking medicine
  • Help your parent who may be resistant to care
  • Manage caregiver burnout

If you find yourself experiencing any of these issues, it’s important to reach out for help. You don’t have to find solutions all by yourself. You can explore community caregiver support groups or statewide resource programs designed to help caregivers at little to no cost.

Those who live in Minnesota have different types of affordable caregiving resources available both in-person and online. They include caregiving classes, a support line for navigating Medicare, consultations with a caregiving expert and respite care. To get started, you can access the Senior LinkAge Line.

Caring for elderly parents at home

Taking care of an elderly parent who lives in your home may sound like a convenient arrangement if you’ve never experienced it. After all, you’re right there if they need you, right? And it’s easier to ensure they’re taken care of when you’re doing it yourself or when you’re able to monitor their needs.

In reality, this can be a difficult time for both a caregiver and their aging parent. Your roles have shifted. There might be a new member of your household you need to take care of – and that care can be complicated. It takes a lot of adjusting. During this time, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and your parent. And to explore all the help available to you.

How to navigate in-home care and home health care services

If your aging parent lives with you, that doesn’t mean every aspect of care has to rest on your shoulders. You might be able to set up additional services that can help both of you. Common home care services include home health aides, skilled nursing visits, personal care attendants and home care nursing. You can even get access to durable medical equipment that will help you take care of your parent.

If your parent is on Medicare, as most people 65 and older are, you may have coverage options for some of these services and more. Medicare Parts A and B cover certain part-time home health services for those who are considered “homebound.” This way, care can come to your parent if they struggle to leave the house or if leaving home isn’t recommended because of their health.

These services must be ordered by your doctor during an in-person appointment and provided by a Medicare-approved home health agency. If you think your parent would benefit from a home health aide or another type of in-home care, you can explore eligibility and look for home health providers on Medicare’s official website.

Financial considerations when caring for an aging parent

One of the biggest difficulties most caregivers face is managing finances. It’s expensive taking care of someone else, and it’s not just about medical care – daily care comes with its own price too. If you need some financial help and you’re eligible for assistance, there are federal and state programs that pay caregivers and family who are helping aging relatives with personal care, health care and other practical needs.

Receiving financial support through government assistance

The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t pay adult caregivers of aging parents directly for their care. However, there are plenty of government programs that do help.

If your parent is on Medicaid, you may have more options than you think. While it depends on which state you live in, you may be eligible for these financial support opportunities:

  • HCBS Waivers and 1915(c) Waivers: State Medicaid waivers that help an aging parent pay for a variety of home and personal services, including caregiving
  • Medicaid Personal Needs Allowance: A personal needs allowance that can pay a percentage of your parent’s personal needs costs
  • Medicaid Caregiver Child Exemption: An exemption that allows adult children financial support to care for aging parents at home instead of in a Medicaid-approved nursing facility
  • VA Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC): A program that helps caregivers of U.S. veterans access education, training and mental health care, and provides a monthly financial stipend for care

Can you receive a tax break for caring for aging parents?

Many caregivers end up spending their own money to help aging parents and other loved ones. In a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), polled caregivers reported spending an average of $7,200 each year on caregiving expenses.

If your parent is a member of your household and is classified as a dependent on your tax returns, you may be able to itemize certain health care expenses. In addition, you might also be eligible for specific tax incentives for caregivers that will lower your bill when you file your taxes, including the Child and Dependent Tax Credit and the Credit for Other Dependents. Both have different eligibility requirements you’ll need to explore when you file your taxes for the year. For more information, head to the official website for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

What to do if you can't care for elderly parents

Not all people are in a situation in which they can care for an aging parent or relative. Maybe you live farther away from your family or don’t have the resources. Or perhaps there are other things going on in your life that make it impossible to be a primary caregiver. It’s not something you should feel bad about. This is a common experience for many. However, there are still ways you can be involved.

Caring for your parent from afar

So, what are your options if you don’t live near your elderly parent? A lot of what you can accomplish from a distance involves researching and coordinating. While you may not be your aging parent’s main source of care, you can still help support them.

Does your parent need to find transportation to and from doctors’ appointments? You could be the one to help them locate a dependable method of transportation, like a senior shuttle. Is your parent looking into a nursing facility? You can research their local facilities to help them make a good decision based on their needs.

You can also help them organize their medical information to make future decisions, talking through care options and immediate health care needs. Think of it more like helping them cover all angles, getting involved where you can – not all forms of caregiving look alike.

Get the help your aging parent needs

While you’re taking care of your parent or relative, it’s normal to need support. If you need an expert’s input on senior health care, help is available. Organizations like HealthPartners can assist with a variety of specialized care services to help seniors keep living the way they want.