How to Help Your Aging Parents When Money Is Tight

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Getty ImagesYou want to be there for mom and dad, but how?

If you're of a certain age, you probably have parents of a certain age. That is, your parents are getting up there in years, and they need help, but you may not be able to give it to them. Or not in the way you'd like to.

You've probably heard of the "sandwich generation," which describes adults who are both taking care of their kids and providing assistance to their elderly parents. If that's you, you don't need statistics or sympathy. You need advice. Here's some -- probably not enough, of course, but these strategies may help.

Outsource. Maybe you can't always be there to help your parents, but someone else can. You could enlist your parents' neighbors or nearby family members to help out and head off problems, suggests Meghan Orner, a marketing coordinator with, a medical alert systems company.

"Especially if you live far away, enlist the help of a trusted neighbor or friends," she suggests. When you visit, Omer suggests introducing yourself to the people who live next door to your parents. Let them know about your concerns. Maybe they'll be willing to help your parents shovel their walkway.

Of course, perhaps this is a situation where you don't have the time or money to fly out to see your parents and talk to the neighbors. In that case, you may want to hire a certified geriatric care manager.

Marianne Griebler, a marketing communications consultant in Chicago, says she used a care manager several months ago for an elderly aunt who needed surgery.

"The best ones are affiliated with an association called Aging Life Care Association," Griebler says, adding that the association was formerly called the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. These care managers "may be [registered nurses], social workers or anyone with professional expertise in caring for older adults. They differ from the care managers who are on staff at a hospital or other medical organizations in that they are an advocate for an individual older adult and act as proxy for family members who live far away."

Griebler used the manager's services for a few months until her aunt was able to return home.

"The expense was less than the cost of a plane ticket and, as the commercial says, priceless for the peace of mind the care manager was able to provide," she says.

Griebler says she paid less than $700 but points out that if your relative or parent lives in a metropolis like New York City or Chicago, you may pay far more. As for what Griebler's aunt received for the money: the care manager visited her aunt, talked to the staff at the aunt's rehabilitation center and assessed the care she was getting and drove a sick relative to visit her. The care manager also ran some errands for Griebler's relative, an uncle, and helped get the aunt home to her Scottsdale condo.

Use the Internet. As you know, the Internet makes it far easier to connect, and not just from a communications standpoint.

For instance, if your parents are having trouble paying their bills, you could start managing a lot of their life online, Orner says.

"Set up online access to your [parents'] credit card and bank accounts to track their finances," she suggests.

Know your rights and talk to your employer. If your parents are really declining, and you need to take time off work to care for them, you may be legally entitled to.

The Family and Medical Leave Act protects a lot of people, says Cynthia Calvert, a Baltimore-based employment attorney and president of Workforce 21C, which helps businesses avoid making human resource blunders that could run afoul of the law.

"Several cases have been filed in court, and I expect to see many more in the coming years, in which employees have been told by their employers that if they take time off to take care of their parents, they will be fired," Calvert says.

She advises employees to know their rights and talk things out with their bosses. Often, according to Calvert, if you explain your situation in a nonconfrontational manner while making it clear you're committed to your job, your employer will stay happy and you'll stay employed.

That's how it worked out for Bethanie Nonami, who lives in Tampa, Florida. Her mother was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1989, but she persevered for the next several decades. In 2011, however, her condition worsened, and Nonami soon became her mother's caregiver while holding down a full-time job, not to mention juggling roles as a mom and wife.

"I called my boss and told her about my mom's health condition and asked for flexibility with my hours. So if my mom had a doctor's appointment at 2 p.m., I would work through lunch and take lunch at 2 p.m.," Nonami says.

Working like that and caring for her mother in the nooks and crevices of her life was stressful but worth it, says Nonami, whose mother passed away in 2012.

Remember to take care of yourself. It's easy to brush off this sort of advice. Your parent or parents are in trouble, and people are telling you to be good to yourself or are offering some other platitude that doesn't seem helpful.

But then you hear Marti Mayne's story, and you realize how important that tired advice is. Mayne's 90-year-old mother, who lived in Rochester, New York, was diagnosed last year with ovarian cancer. Mayne, who lives in Yarmouth, Maine, desperately wanted to spend time with her mother and give her sister a break from caregiving duties, which had been increasing over the years.

"During the last few months of her life, I traveled the thousand-mile round trip nearly every other week to spend time with her and to help her," Mayne says.

It wasn't easy. Mayne was juggling her marketing business and trying to be present for her husband and two teenage daughters. Her family was supportive, but still, Mayne says, "It was a lot of pressure."

Somewhere in the midst of this time, Mayne found herself with a bad toothache. But she felt she could only handle one health issue at a time.

"The toothache festered for three months while I battled it with three rounds of antibiotics and constant Advil," Mayne says. "Knowing my Mom's final days were near, I put off having that tooth pulled too long."

Mayne finally had it pulled six weeks before her mother died but still felt physically lousy. She chalked it up to grief at first, but after her mother passed away in November 2014, Mayne saw her doctor, who ordered some blood tests.

"Fifty percent of my kidney function was gone," she says. "Two months later, I was diagnosed with renal failure and 85 percent kidney function loss."

Mayne is on the mend now and regaining her kidney function, although her doctor isn't certain she'll ever be back to normal. In any case, Mayne has a serious message for everyone ignoring their own health while being laser-focused on helping their parents.

"You can't be a good caregiver to someone else if you don't take care of yourself," Mayne says. "I put all of my own job, family and health needs aside for my dying mom and could have ended up right next to her in the cemetery."
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