When your parent is losing independence, and you can see what’s coming, you may question yourself. Am I supposed to do something about this? I really don’t like this person! He/she was not a good parent! Why should I have to take this on when my parent was so nasty to me growing up?
There is the internal dialog—is this a legal obligation? I hope not. Am I a bad person if I don’t want to get involved? Maybe. Do I have to do this? There is the time constraint too, as care of aging parents is burdensome for a lot of folks. What we see at AgingParents.com, a consulting service for families, is that people are all over the map on these questions and what adult children choose to do.
Some remarkable people are able to set the entire past aside, see the elder in their lives as simply a vulnerable person in failing health, and they manage the caregiving. When they have mixed feelings about it, they go with the ones that motivate them to take care of business for the aging parent. Others, still resenting the elder for what they did not do for them as kids, refuse to be involved and let the elder be alone and vulnerable. Bad things do happen. Then there is guilt. Clearly, there is no easy path to being comfortable with these messy, emotional situations.
What Do Other Families Do?
If someone asks us for advice at AgingParents.com about whether they are legally obligated to take care of an elder in their lives whom they seriously dislike for whatever reason, the answer is usually “no”. The law does not force us, in most instances, to take care of an aging parent. It is a personal, moral, ethical or other decision.
There are some states with some outdated laws on the books that do require that families take financial care of low income aging parents, but these statutes would not likely withstand legal challenges. These are old laws that pre-date programs like Medicare and Medicaid. If a low income person is in need of care, we have Medicaid that will pay for a nursing home. Qualification for this program is based on the elder’s income, not on what other family members have in their bank accounts.
In some states there is “In Home Supportive Services” (IHSS), which one qualifies for by being on Medicaid and meeting the state’s requirements for this additional benefit. That program does allow payment on a limited basis for a home care worker that the elder hires independently. But IHSS does not pay for 24/7 care of an elder in need of it at home.
Low Income Aging Parents
Even if the elder is low income and has an IHSS worker for some hours during the day, that may not meet their needs for safety. Someone needs to fill in the gap when around the clock care is necessary. Some adult children who have no interest in giving hands-on care for an elder they dislike will pay for additional care to keep an aging parent out of a nursing home. Others, still harboring anger at the neglectful or abusive aging parent, have no interest in keeping that parent out of a nursing home. That’s where these elders end up. It’s not where anyone wants to end up.
Is There A “Right Decision”?
I do not suggest here to anyone what a right decision is about whether you need to get involved with your aging parent in need of care. There is no “right” or “wrong” about a choice you make. I do suggest that if you can’t stand the thought of having to take care of your aging parent yourself, that you consider investigating how that could be arranged with others doing the job.
As a retired RN myself, I look back on those neglected elders I saw at their homes in my work in community health. All of them lived alone. Some never had any visitors from family or friends. Perhaps that said something about how they had lived their lives. And I was glad to have a chance to look in on them in those home visits, set up resources for them, get Meals on Wheels going, and ensure that they had applied for public benefits when they were eligible. I had no history with them, no knowledge of who may have had a falling out with them at some time long ago. I just saw what they needed and did all a nurse could do to see that they got the basics. We were the intervention to stop elder self-neglect.
So, in case you, at any point, struggle with the prospect of having to take on some responsibility for an aging parent you resent, consider this: community organizations may be available to help them. If you can contribute funds to provide care for them, that does not mean you must be emotionally involved. You can minimize your own work by two things: doing relevant research and providing your credit card when you locate appropriate, fee-based programs and services.
The Benefit Of Starting With Right Now
And if you still have that old resentment, anger and distress with your aging parent it’s never too late to let it go. Sometimes deciding to release all the old “baggage” can free you. We’ve seen it happen in our work with families. There is more peace of mind for the adult children. The guilt disappears. It’s worth considering. An aging parent, alone and in need is still just another human being, regardless of the history of how they behaved at a different time in life.