Juggling work and multi-generational care
19th August 2015 | Posted in Mature marketing
They call us the sandwich generation. We’ve no sooner stopped being 24/7 parents when we start playing a supporting role in our parents’ lives.
That’s hugely simplistic of course. But with more people living longer, there is a very good chance that we will at some stage, possibly for some years, be trying to juggle family, work, parental care – and a good life for ourselves.
With finite resources in the national social budget to spread across an ageing population, it’s no longer the case that the government will fund any support that’s needed. If we care, we will find ourselves getting involved physically, emotionally and financially.
This chapter is about thinking about what you can put in place now and where to go if you do hit challenges.
Long before our parents need any help we can be picking up hints from their conversation. If they go to a funeral do they mention what they would like? Do they point out care homes and say that one looks nice? My dad did that and it helped us hugely when he had a spell when he couldn’t look after himself or make decisions. Or does the mere thought send you into a panic so you don’t hear what they’re trying to tell you?
You could actually start the conversation. Some parents won’t want to talk about the future. Others will be relieved to have the opportunity to voice their thoughts and fears.
What are the things you need to know about? All the painful things. Care choices. Where the will is kept (and if there is a will!). Where all the financial paperwork is and whether it’s in order. And the very tricky just-in-case questions about setting up Power of Attorney and even whether they’ve discussed Do Not Resuscitate orders with a health worker.
Decide what you can do
You can’t really predict what sort of level of sort your parents may need over time, but you can think about what you are able to do for them.
I have always tried to make it clear that I’m really happy to be cook, chauffeur, shopper, appointment maker, gardener and even cleaner. But I am not a nurse and I am not a carer, so if personal stuff needs doing we will have to find someone else to do it. You can make your own decision and feel free to stick to it without guilt – although of course you can choose to do more or less as time goes on.
It’s not just personal preferences that will dictate what you can do. Time is a real limiter, especially when you have other demands such as work and family or you live some distance away. So what’s really important that you can make a priority?
While parents may need someone to help them with finances or running their diaries, without a doubt what is often lacking is human contact. Losing a partner or no longer being able to drive or walk limits social activity. So simply staying in contact by phone, Skype or Facetime can be invaluable.
Divide and conquer – but in a nice way
This is a broad generalisation but women do tend to be the ones who take on first-line responsibility for their parents. That’s no reason to take it all on though and doing so can lead to resentments that last for years.
In times of caring, play to everyone’s strengths. Some people can deal with financial matters happily but struggle with the emotional support. Some are great at practical stuff but can’t bear to just sit. If you’re taking charge try asking siblings to do what you know they would be comfortable with. Some people won’t take kindly to being organised, so tact and diplomacy will be needed.
There are stress points where sharing the care can go very wrong. Setting up Power of Attorney is an excellent move, enabling nominees to take control of finance and health when a parent isn’t able to make their own decisions. Making a will is equally important to simplify managing the estate of a deceased parent. In both cases it is going to be vital that the people nominated can work together amicably, or chaos will ensue.
In words at least the UK government is behind the drive to help people live independently at home for as long as possible. However, the funds aren’t there to support social care for all and the process of getting local authority help is complex and, as ever, different in different parts of the country.
If your parents choose to pay for agency help, then they can get access to a range of services including personal care and shopping. There are some nationally established companies and many smaller businesses offering these sorts of services. The quality is variable, so it’s worth doing some research before the need arises.
It could be that your parents can maintain independence longer if they choose to downsize. Be aware though that leaving a family home for something smaller is an emotional and physical challenge. There are professional downsizers who can help.
You could move in together. We’ve collected many stories of families doing that, but while some profess to find it a great solution while their parents are fit and active, there’s definitely an underlying strain once their parents start to need more help.
Choosing more care
At some point your parent may benefit more from moving into accommodation with help nearby or into a residential home. If they have added health needs then a nursing home makes sense. Residential homes do not come cheap. In some parts of the country you may find them at around £600 a week, but at the top end in the South East you could easily be paying £1400 a week.
In the best-case scenario your parent has savings or income to cover the cost of their choice of home. If not, and your parent lives alone and owns a house, they will be expected to sell to pay for care. If a partner is still living in the house, they shouldn’t be forced to sell. However, local authorities can’t afford market rates so if your parent is dependent on the government to pay for their care, their choices will be limited. You are though allowed to pay top-up fees to pay for a better room or a different home. It’s a complex situation – as is everything to do with care.
There are excellent homes and there are those that hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Choice is difficult but you can get some advice from the growing number of web sites offering reviews. There’s also the Care Quality Commission which officially visits care homes and gives them a rating.
What to do about work
It’s impossible to predict how much time you may need to spend looking after your parents. That makes juggling care with work very difficult and drives many women to give up work altogether.
It doesn’t have to be that cut and dried. If you’re employed you are now entitled to request flexible working – something usually associated with new parents wanting to spend time with children. Going part-time may help to solve the dilemma.
If you’re self-employed – and I speak from experience as a freelance copywriter – you may find people assume you have all the free time you need to take on parental care as well as running your business. It’s certainly easier to squeeze in visits and appointments but you may need to make it clear to others that your time is not infinitely expandable.
Find out more
A good place to start is the web site I’ve been the working with for several years now – www.whentheygetolder.co.uk. As a co-founder, commissioning editor and writer myself I follow our plan to explain the basics and then point you in the right direction for more in-depth information.
Other valuable sources of information include:
- The Quality Care Commission (cqc.org.uk) has a remit to inspect and report on care homes and care services. If you’re looking for care, then there are a number of sites you could check for reviews, such as the Good Care Guide (www.goodcareguide.co.uk) and www.carehome.co.uk.
- If you need a solicitor with the right expertise, you can look at the Solicitors for the Elderly (solicitorsfortheelderly.com). Choosing a solicitor here doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the service you want but it’s a useful starting point.
- The same is true of the Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA – societyoflaterlifeadvisers.co.uk), which is a group of financial planning advisers who focus on the older market and should know about pensions, care home fee plans and other financial details.
- NHS Choices (nhs.uk) provides a great deal of information about health issues and the individual web sites such as the British Heart Foundation (www.bhf.org.uk) and the Stroke Association (www.stroke.org.uk) are often excellent. The charities often provide helplines for individual queries.
- Dementia is a huge worry today and there are plenty of sources of information including the Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk)
- Rica (rica.org.uk/) tests and reports on transport issues and more for the elderly disabled and have details of products such as mobility scooters.
- Which? (which.co.uk) has also started focusing on products and services for older people although you may need a subscription to view them.
A final note
They say you can’t take care of people if you need care yourself. It’s so true when you’re under pressure to do your best for bosses, customers, children, partners, friends and parents. It is absolutely vital that you take time for yourself and keep feelings of guilt at arm’s length. The other chapters in this book will help enormously.
This blog is my contributed chapter to a yet-to-be-published book called “The Busy Woman’s Guide to Life”
Do you need a writer who understands about quality of life for the ageing population? Take a look at my blog https://primetimepeopleblog.wordpress.com/ or get in touch with me directly at [email protected]ightwell.com