When ageing parents can no longer care for themselves

Key takeaways

  • Be led by your parent’s wishes.
  • Quantify the extent of financial support needed.
  • Share costs with your siblings.
  • Involve your partner in the process to obtain his or her buy-in for the final solution.
  • Don’t dip into your savings to fund the cost of care.
  • Don’t neglect your own retirement savings.

It may take you quite by surprise when suddenly your parents are unable to cope. It may also be the last thing you feel like dealing with as you juggle your own family, career and financial challenges.

Don’t wait until there’s a crisis - addressing the situation head on can prevent undue stress later on.

Four step solution

  1. Assess the situation
  2. Look at options
  3. Decide how to fund the solution
  4. Implement

How to tell if they need help

Sometimes an incident like a stroke or a fall, or the death of a spouse, makes the need for care for one or both parents obvious.

But often you have to look for more subtle signs indicating that they’re not coping.

Err on the side of caution as parents will often make out they are coping when they are not. Look for telltale signs such as:

  • Battling to do basic daily tasks such as washing, walking or eating;

  • Deterioration of physical appearance such as bruises, poor personal hygiene or weight loss;

  • Changes in behaviour such as moodiness, forgetfulness or change in sleep patterns;

  • Falling for scams, not paying accounts or neglecting the household chores.

Exploring the options

There is no one size fits all when it comes to finding a solution - it depends on the circumstances.

The level and cost of care will also change over time as their health deteriorates.

Find out what they would prefer and work around this if their and your finances allow. Read more:

How do I talk to my aging parents about their finances? 

Retirement villages

If your parents are still fairly healthy, they may be keen to move into a retirement village which can provide full-time care later on if they need it. 

The cost of renting a unit in a retirement village varies widely in cost depending on the location and accommodation, so you would do well to research the market and check whether that accommodation would include meals and care.

The cost of buying a unit also varies widely, depending on the accommodation and the location.

Monthly levies and meals would need to be paid on top of that, and there will also be a daily or monthly cost for frail care if it is needed in future.

Whether you are renting or buying, the cost is likely to be higher than your current costs because retirement villages offer security and care that an ordinary property would not.

Home care

Your parents may prefer to continue living at home, so hiring a carer could be a solution.

The costs of care vary widely depending on who you engage to be the carer, the extent of services needed and whether you need 24-hour care.   

If you decide to go this route, consider using a trained and experienced carer that from a reputable agency. There may be cheaper options but they could lead to other problems such as theft and elder abuse.

Using an agency also means, the agency will send someone else if your designated carer is unable to come to work.

The shock for many families is finding out just how costly this care is especially when you need a higher level of care full-time as you may require three carers rotating shifts.

Other costs to consider

  • Medical costs – a good medical scheme is crucial as one ages and if your parents can no longer afford their medical scheme costs, you may consider adding them to your medical scheme as a dependant. Read more in our Healthcare cover section

    Comprehensive medical coverage is most suitable but also the most expensive. If you select a lesser level of cover, you may need to pay for shortfalls in the cost of treatment, which can escalate quickly.

  • Daily living costs – this includes groceries, toiletries, transportation, phone, electricity, and rates and maintenance if they choose to remain living in their home.

  • Medical appliances and equipment – these can include walkers, wheelchairs, hearing aids, shower rails and adjustable beds.

Identifying shortfalls

Caring for an aging parent is expensive and the more frail they become, the higher the cost of the care.

A calm and open discussion with your parent(s), sibling(s) and partner is the starting point. It’s important to work out an accurate budget so any shortfall can be quantified and planned for.  Use the Smart About Money Budget Planner

If you are going to have to contribute financially, it may be difficult to juggle in between your own financial commitments as these additional costs are generally unexpected. 

Divide and conquer

Sharing the costs amongst your siblings or other relatives is far better that trying to afford it alone.

It may not be easy reaching consensus but can be easier to afford if everyone chips in. As an example, contributing R1 000 a month for five years is a lot easier than paying R5 000 a month for a year, yet it’s the same amount of money.

Family matters

Supporting your parents financially can be a recipe for conflict with your partner, as money you spend on your parents is money you’re not spending on your family.

Involve your partner in the discussions from the outset. If he or she contributes ideas and possible solutions, it will go a long way towards getting their buy-in, preventing issues of resentment and negativity down the line.

Setting boundaries

Once you have determined your financial contribution you can budget for that expense each month. Make it clear that your contribution is fixed, and as long as your parent’s budget was calculated accurately, there should be no need for embarrassing requests from them if they run short of money.

Try not to dip into your savings to fund the cost of care and do everything possible not to reduce your retirement savings, as this just means that one day you may have to look to your children for financial support. Aim to avoid history repeating itself. Read more: How much do I need to save for retirement? (smartaboutmoney.co.za)