Stuck: Lie or Tell the Truth?

There’s no getting around it, our population is aging faster than at any other time in history and we are living longer.  A man turning 65 years old today will live on average until 84, a woman to live 87, and of course many people live a lot longer. We also know that as we get older our health issues multiply and many of us end up needing help.

Talking with families, healthcare workers and friends, I’ve discovered a concerning trend.  Some older seniors, particularly those with dementia, have no realistic idea what it costs to receive in-home care.  Some seniors I know have even placed advertisements on Craigslist seeking home care and offer about $10 an hour.  No surprise, no one applied.  The actual cost of home care is around $27 an hour.

Other seniors have adult children to help them navigate the web of in-home care.  Many of those kids tell me they’re often stuck in a really tough position.  If they tell their parent the actual cost, the parent refuses the help and their situation continues to decline.  One daughter told me, “Mom wanted to know what we were paying the aide.  We hated to lie, but there was no way she would accept the help if we told her it was nearly $29 an hour.  So we said it was $12.75.  She still thought that was a lot of money, but finally agreed it was the best we could do and the care manager could stay.”

Now enter the minimum wage increases that are taking effect in many parts of the country.  In Seattle, for companies with over 501 employees that don’t pay for medical benefits, the minimum wage is $15 an hour.  The increase has been about $2 each year since 2015.  It impacts not only the minimum wage earner, but workers above the minimum as well. Labor intense markets like healthcare are having a very hard time adjusting.  These companies can’t just charge an extra $.50 for a cup of coffee.  The costs are passed on.  I don’t think most law makers realized how this kind of an increase would affect people on fixed incomes.

The adult children of fragile seniors are the ones stuck in the middle. They have to make a choice: do they lie to their parents, or tell them the truth, and risk them rejecting the care?

Having the conversation is important, but having it early is critical.  Early intervention and care can significantly improve a senior’s quality of life, and can ease the difficulties of future conversations.  There are many resources to help you get started, including “A Conversation to Have with Your Mom That Can’t Wait,” and “8 Tips for Talking to Your Parents about Assisted Living.”   You can also compare the cost of assisted living with the cost of in-home care with this calculator. The important thing is that you start the conversation.

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