The cost of caring for elderly parents

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Taking care of your children is a fundamental part of being a parent. But what happens when the roles are reversed? Navigating the maze of public and private senior care can be quite confusing — and costly.

Many people think the government will pay for home care and nursing homes, but that help may be limited. Families are not prepared for how much things will cost.
To help us understand the options and costs associated with caring for aging parents, the Financial Post’s personal finance writer, Melissa Leong, breaks down some of the choices out there.
Staying at home:
  • The reality is that most elderly individuals want to stay in their homes and that could be an excellent option. If they are able and need either companionship, personal care such as bathing, dressing, or household tasks such as laundry, cooking, driving, you can get extra help from your local health authorities.
  • First, contact your provincial health agency directly or get a referral from your doctor. The agency will likely send a case manager to assess your loved one’s needs and in some jurisdictions, your loved one’s ability to afford care. They may, for example, send someone a few times a week for a few hours to help with food preparation or bathing.
  • However, this might not be enough for you — in which case, you’ll have to hire your own personal care worker through an agency or privately. This can cost $20 to $30 per hour. Registered nurses cost $40 to $70 an hour.
  • Look for other ways to fill the need: Can you get meals on wheels ($5.50 for a Chinese meal in Toronto, $9.50 for a full meal in Edmonton)? Can you get a personal response system such as Lifeline ($42.95 plus tax a month) that will connect your loved one to 24-hour help with the push of a button either on a necklace or wristband? Can you look for adult day programs in your community? Some cost up to $30 a day, which may include bus or transportation.
  • A full-time live-in personal care worker can cost between $1,900 to $3,500 a month. However, round-the-clock care may require two or three full-time caregivers. Labour laws which vary by province, have rules about maximum daily hours of work, overtime pay and time off.
Retirement facilities
  • Independent living centres offer prepared meals and housekeeping. Some of these centres have a continuum of care and have assisted living quarters where seniors need more help with bathing and changing. These facilities can cost between $1,500 to $5,000 a month and are generally not subsidized by the government.
  • This cost might only be rent and food. It might not include extra services such as laundry and help taking medication. Extra help might cost more or if your parent has a fall or needs more care, you might have to hire a personal care worker to supplement this.
Long-term care facilities or nursing homes
  • Long-term care homes vary in cost depending on the provider whether public, private, not-for-profit or religious-based organizations. But provinces will share the cost with you (in some provinces, the amount depends on your income) at the facilities they support. In Ontario, basic accommodations are $1,708 a month, semi-private rooms are $2,012 and private rooms are $2,362.
  • But there could be a wait for a bed in a publicly supported facility. And when one becomes available, it may not be in your preferred area. And you must be ready to immediately make the move. If you turn the bed down, there may be a waiting period before you can re-apply again.
  • Private nursing homes can cost thousands of dollars a month.
Waiting until a crisis to talk to your parents about their wishes isn’t ideal so make sure you have a conversation with them about the kind of care they want. We don’t often think of the financial implications of caring for your loved ones. We don’t think of equipment costs such as wheelchairs or ramps or lifts. We don’t think of lost income from taking time away from work. But as a caregiver, you don’t want to burn out so knowing what your options are and hiring help can be invaluable.

Read more of Melissa's advice in the Financial Post and follow her on Twitter @lisleong.

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