Military families are the strength behind the uniform. They share in the stresses and strains resulting from deployments of their loved ones into dangerous operational duty, and the prolonged separations they entail. They also make important sacrifices and face challenges associated with frequent relocation, such as finding new family health care providers, re-establishing child care, moving children between schools and education systems, professional licensing and dealing with inconveniences such as changing drivers’ and vehicles licenses when moving between provinces. They must also deal with the financial instability resulting from frequent moves, whether it be the loss of employment and different tax systems.
When you’re on active duty, you may be stationed far from your parents. You may also be required to move from country to country. If your parents are aging, they may need care that you cannot personally provide because of the geographical distance. People may have concerns about the care of their aging parents even when they live nearby. Medical conditions and issues tend to increase as people get older. They may need a caretaker to look in on them to make sure they are eating well, to help with basic home maintenance or to make sure they are taking required medication. How do you make sure your aging parents are cared for when you may be half-way around the world? It’s important to plan.
Have you formalized a “what-if” game plan? Perhaps “when” is a more accurate characterization. Your parents probably have at least an idea of what they would like to see happen if they are incapacitated or pass away, but a mere idea isn’t enough. To make things happen according to their wishes, they need to draft or update a suite of legal documents that may include wills, trusts, powers of attorney (both medical and financial) and living wills. A qualified estate-planning attorney can help them build the plan.
See what community resources are available. Many communities offer assistance to senior citizens. These services could be volunteers dedicated to checking on them, delivery of meals or other programs geared toward the aging. As a service member, you can get information on what resources are available for families and caregivers through The National Resource Directory. It’s a service of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense and the listings are often grouped state by state.
What type of insurance do you have? Be sure you have a firm grasp of your folks’ life, long-term care and health insurance policies. A survey of their insurance could identify gaps or unnecessary coverage and influence care or lifestyle decisions. It could be that policies purchased decades ago don’t make sense today — or that new ones should be considered.
Set up a nearby support system. Even if you’re an only child, think about what support system you could put together. If you need someone to stop by and check on your parents, could it be done by extended family members (uncles, aunts, cousins, grandchildren)? Are they close to neighbors? Friends? If you have brothers or sisters, could they check in occasionally even if they don’t live close by?
You may want to consider getting a medical alert system for your parent(s). While there are many companies that make them, LifeStation offers the broadest company to client features, including a weekly check-in to help reduce senior isolation. Aside from the peace of mind that medical emergencies will be taken care of quickly, medical alert companies are beginning to offer many other services. Companies now offer services such as fall detection, wellness checks, and concierge services to connect seniors with transportation, health care appointments, grocery delivery and more. Also, if there is an emergency, not only can the monitoring center call 911, they can call designated contacts on a predetermined contact list. This can be nearby friends, family, caregivers or even yourself, so you know exactly what is happening.
Talk, Skype and e-mail often. Just because you’re not nearby doesn’t mean you can’t check in with your parents. Talk to them as often as you can. If you can Skype, it would be advisable, just because you can physically see whether or not they look healthy. If Skype isn’t available, use the phone. You can often tell how they’re doing by their tone of voice and by the conversation. You can also use e-mail just to check up. Senior isolation and loneliness are growing problems. But even one conversation a day can help alleviate the feelings of being alone. Other ways to combat this problem are listed in this blog post.
Does your plan need to be dusted off? Your parents may have answered yes to question one, but if they drafted their documents decades ago, it could be time for a refresh. Tax laws have changed dramatically, and it could also make sense to re-establish their intent with respect to powers of attorney. A financial institution may be less likely to recognize a 25-year-old power of attorney than one drawn up a couple of years ago. As you take another look at these important documents, be sure all beneficiary arrangements reflect your parents’ current wishes and are synchronized with the other means by which their assets will be distributed.
You need to talk openly with your parents’ support network about what they feel they can realistically do. If support is available among extended family or friends, do they need occasional assistance from trained caregivers at home, or are trained caregivers needed all together? It helps to have a list of what is needed and who can provide it. Ask the caregivers to let you know if your parents need to think about assisted living, additional medical care or physical therapy. It is important to be in the loop about the level of care the nearby caregivers think they need.
Caring for aging parents while you’re in the service can be stressful. However, by taking steps to plan a support system of family and friends, using community resources as much as possible, keeping in touch with your parents and mapping out a realistic plan, you’ll be ahead of the curve in assessing and taking care of their needs.