The Cost of Crisis: The price we pay when we don't plan for the future

We fail to make decisions in our lives for all kinds of reasons such as a lack of information, procrastination, or the hope that if we do nothing, we won’t have to. Maybe we even wait for the answer to strike us in the night while we sleep. When it comes to eldercare and planning for the future however, many families are paying a high price for their indecision. More and more it is a crisis that is driving decisions and conversations about how our aging loved ones will live out their last 10-20 years.

While there are many things that we can’t predict in our life, (Spoiler Alert) we are all going to die and if we are so privileged, we will grow old. We give ourselves and our families a gift when we choose to address this fact head on and create a financial and logistical plan long before we need it. While the financial cost of a crisis can be most obvious it is important that we understand the full price that we pay when we don’t plan for the future. 

The Emotional Cost

As adult children, we want the very best for our aging parents, but when there is a void of conversations and planning families suffer the guilt and stress of not knowing what their loved ones would choose in an emergency or end-of-life situation. Feeling blindsided and unprepared during can compound the stress we feel to handle the situation well.

Another common outcome of a sudden crisis is for adult children to step in and take on the responsibility of providing for their loved one’s short or long term care needs. Being thrust into eldercare by a crisis can take an enormous emotional toll on adult children who find themselves suddenly managing the responsibility of two households while balancing career and family. When we begin to have important eldercare conversations in the stress of a crisis instead of the safety of the kitchen table, we suffer from the turmoil of mismatched expectations, grief, heavy responsibility, and fear.  

The Cost of Choice

When choices are driven by a crisis instead of thoughtful decisions, the options available to you may be limited. For example, falls are one of the greatest causes of injury and loss of independence for older adults. When a conversation is had ahead of time and plans are made to age in place, such as making modifications to the home and setting up services for assistance, then risks can be minimized and independence can be protected. Without a conversation about increased needs and wishes a loved one may injure themselves and be moved to institutional care. A loved one may do best in a particular care environment but waiting to explore the option until there is a crisis may mean there is a wait list and they won’t be able to get into their first choices.

The Financial Cost

According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, currently a quarter of adult children, mainly baby boomers, provide personal and financial care to a parent. Not only are we living longer, but we are having children later in life which means many baby boomers are finding themselves in the sandwich generation, who are still paying for their children’s college tuition while financially assisting a parent. By taking on the care and help for a parent in a crisis, many are finding their retirement savings and savings potential for their own futures dwindling. 

The Physical Cost

While there are many emergencies and circumstances that we can’t predict, many accidents can be avoided simply by having conversations and taking action earlier. Two big examples are with living environment and driving. Families often avoid conversations about when it is time to change living arrangements, get help, or stop driving until there is a crisis. The physical cost of a fall at home or car accident could potentially be avoided through dialog and choices made before there is the likelihood of a crisis. It is also worth mentioning that in a MetLife study called, “Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers”, adult children who work and provide care to a parent are more likely to have considerable health issues themselves and poorer health overall.

The Relational Cost

While someone turning 65 today has an almost 70% chance of needing some type of long term care services and support in their remaining years, a small percentage of people believe that long term care will affect their own families. Managing expectations between families is a crucial part of eldercare and long term care planning. If an aging loved one never addresses and plans for their future, it is often assumed that adult children will be the safety net and will provide care for an aging loved one. In a crisis, these unarticulated expectations can have a strong relational cost. All families have their own dynamics and for many, crisis and eldercare can bring up old feuds, and relational dynamics that can make it even more difficult to deal with an emergency. Even when families have positive relationships they can lean on, often the logistical impact of a crisis can leave little time to be just family. Without a plan in place to assist families in managing a crisis, the stress and decisions can be taxing on relationships.    

Now What?

We highlight the costs of crises, not to cause fear and anxiety, but to empower families to courageously move towards developing an eldercare plan together. Even our not making choices are a decision. How much more effective and value-based would our conversations and decisions be if we moved them from the hospital bedside to the kitchen table?  

If you or your loved one is managing an eldercare crisis, a professional Geriatric Care Manager is an incredible asset to families trying to find the best solutions for their loved ones. As eldercare experts, they are able to coordinate care, advocate in the hospital, arrange services, and provide professional guidance to aging adults and their families. There is a live person to answer your call 24 hours a day. Whether you are planning for the future or managing a crisis, we’re here to provide you with Sound Options to your eldercare needs.    

Published on December 31, 2013.