December 4, 2013
READER’S QUESTION: My 96-year-old widowed father lives in Florida. I visited him during Thanksgiving, traveling from another state. He had not told me prior to arrival that he was having health issues, which required an immediate visit to the hospital ER. My father keeps saying his medical problems “are nothing,” and is emphatic that he is doing “just fine” living alone, AND still driving. Meanwhile, his house is filthy, cluttered, and unsafe even though he has a cleaning woman whom he claims is his “girlfriend.” I have met her and she is my age with what I consider questionable intentions. I discovered he has taken her on several cruises and gives her generous cash to “clean his house.” My sister lives in New York City, so she is letting me deal with this mess, since we are his only two offspring, and I am closer in distance to him.
MARIANN’S RESPONSE: It is a sad scenario when a parent lives long enough that an adult child must evolve into the parental role and the elderly parent must endure a role reversal, becoming the child. As baby boomers age, we are now encountering a new phenomenon of having our parents around longer than with previous generations. It is estimated presently 317,000 people worldwide are 100 years old, known as centenarians or “super-centenarians” if they reach 110 or beyond. Currently, the United States is far behind Japan, France, Spain, and Canada as to the number of citizens who have reached this milestone, according to United Nations statistics. This equates to hundreds of thousands of adult children being responsible for both their own aging and also the care of a centenarian.
As mentioned in previous columns, coping with this new reality of balancing both our lives and the care of elderly parents is unchartered territory and an area of counseling that in my opinion, needs greater emphasis. Also legal and medical specialties to offset the upcoming flood of baby-boomers needing these services are begging for more practitioners versus those newly-minted attorneys or physicians who only desire specialties with the highest monetary compensation.
I’ll cut straight to the chase, find an elder law attorney immediately. You have a potentially ugly battle brewing ahead which will take your time, money, and patience. Depending upon your father’s mental competence, going to court and requesting guardianship might be necessary. Each state varies as to how elder competency is determined. If he is in denial about medical issues, living in squalor, insistent on living alone, continues to drive, and now has a lecherous much-younger-girlfriend, these are all warning signs of cognitive impairment and a formula for disaster.
At his age and with a multitude of issues that could compromise reaction time, a first step is to end his driving. A physician familiar with his situation should be willing to help by writing an order to suspend his driving privileges indefinitely. To solidify this, selling his car might be necessary.
Next, even against his will, finding a more secure living environment is essential where he can reside without the potential of being scammed by opportunists who see an easy target or the possibility of a calamity from his residing in filth and eminent danger from a fire. To exit him from the home and downsize his residence into assisted living will probably take the intervention of an attorney. Being declared the power of attorney for your father, not just for healthcare but also for his financial affairs, will not be easy, especially if his “girlfriend” lacks honorable intentions and sees potential inheritance because of her “cleaning skills.”
Moving him closer to you might be another necessary consideration. Having retired parents relocate South during their “Golden Years” makes for an ideal family vacation destination. However, when the time comes that they are living without the support of other relatives nearby, more seniors should consider what will happen when their adult children, who might still reside “back home,” can’t suddenly sacrifice their own employment or families to care for a parent several states away or “drop everything,” catch a plane, and attend to every parental emergency.
The entire downsizing, end-of life process for an elderly parent is never easy. Good luck, call your father’s physician, and start interviewing elder law attorneys today.
You can reach Mariann directly by e-mail via MariannMain@GMail.com.
Mariann Main is a Licensed Counselor and a Delaware native. Her column appears weekly on Wednesdays. To submit a question and have Mariann answer it anonymously, visit delgazette.com/life-questions-with-local-answers or send mail to the Delaware Gazette office, 40 N. Sandusky St., suite 203, Delaware, OH 43015.