It’s hard sometimes, but the time to start this conversation is now. I’m not an expert, but there is some basic information you need to know to begin to address your parents’ care needs. While this list is by no means all-inclusive, there are a few things I’ve learned along the journey:
1. Familiarize yourself with the basics of your parents’ finances. Even if it’s not “time” to get into the details, it’s good to know things like: Where they bank? Do they have a safe deposit box? (consider asking for a list of contents) Where do they keep the “important” papers?
2. It’s good to know and keep a list of your parents’ physicians, medications they take and their basic medical history, including dates of any surgeries or hospitalizations even if they aren’t aging or infirm. It’s good information to have, and even if you don’t live in the same town, you could find yourself traveling with them and need it, or receive an emergency call from someone needing this information.
3. Know the types of insurance (if any) they have. For example, is it private insurance? Who is the subscriber? What will they do if the subscriber suddenly can’t work? Do they have Medicare (or other federal program coverage)? Do they have military coverage? What about Long Term Care insurance?
4. How do/will they pay for their medications? If it is through private insurance (often through a job benefit), how will they continue to pay for medicines if the carrier can no longer work? For example, right before my mother became ill, my parents found out my dad was eligible for Tricare and that it covered nearly all their prescriptions. This fact alone has saved them from financial disaster.
5. Get an idea of who knows what about household matters. Are both parents familiar with the household bills and finances? Do both parents know how to grocery shop, do laundry, etc.? If one parent dies, how much help would the surviving spouse need, even if they are in good health?
6. Take a look at some of the assistance resources in your area. Often, your first introduction into the matters of Generation Sandwich comes in the form of your aging or ill parent needing help in the home. For example, do you know anyone who has had a good experience with a home health company or a medical equipment vendor? Are there companion/sitter agencies in your area, or, do you know someone who has hired a sitter privately? Ask questions now, and, file the information away for later if you think you might need it.
7. Know if they have (and get copies of) any advance medical directives such as a will, a health care proxy, or, a durable power of attorney.
8. It may be hard to bring up in conversation, but, find out if they have burial spaces (apparently, the term “plot” is passe, who knew?) As hard as it is to believe about my hyper-organized parents, no one knew for sure if they had spaces or not. It’s just handy information to know.
I know it’s not always easy to bring these kinds of things up with your parents, particularly if they are independent, and in good health. However, it’s wise to be prepared.