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Tips for Caring for Your Aging Parents

They brought you up. Now it's your turn to care for them, which will bring unique challenges, and very possibly some surprises. Learn how four families make it work, and how you can, too.

In an ideal world, your mom and dad would live to a robust old age and never need your help beyond programming their DVR. In reality they'll likely require significant support at some point. A bad fall, a stroke, or a debilitating illness might mean you'll have to set them up in a nursing home or an assisted living facility. But over half of people who need care receive it at home—and 80 percent of the time family and friends provide it. Another 25 percent live in the home of the caregiver, usually an adult child.

You can guess what this means for your life: Forty percent of women looking after parents are forced to switch to part-time work or stop altogether, leading to financial strain. There's a personal toll as well. Half of those same caregivers report having to give up exercise, vacations, hobbies, or social activities. At the same time, though, many women say that it's a life-enriching responsibility, and that there are lots of ways for you to meet your parents' needs and your own.

Scenario: Mom Comes Home

Rosa Hymes was already living with her daughter, Alexa St. Julian, in Pearland, Texas, to be there after school for Alexa's two kids, then 11 and 13. But everything changed just months after Rosa moved in when she had hip replacement surgery. Complications took a year to resolve and ultimately resulted in an amputation. Today, Rosa is wheelchair-bound and still lives with Alexa and her family.

The Solution Alexa does most of the caregiving for her mom, but she also hired an aide who comes three times a week to assist Rosa with bathing, laundry, and other everyday needs. That's when Alexa, who's a real estate agent, crams in as much work as she possibly can. "We have not been on one vacation as a family since all of this started," says Alexa. "I've missed some of the kids' school events. Yet I'm a stronger person. And I still have my mother, who's a gem."

Costs The aide charges $100 a day. Most of Rosa's hospital bills were covered by Medicare, although some medication, including $7,000 worth of at-home IV therapy, was not and ended up on Alexa's credit card. Alexa's income has also dropped substantially because of the time she took off during Rosa's hospitalizations.

Key to Success Alexa accepts every offer of help that comes her way. "Whether it's a relative flying in or a church member bringing us dinner one night, I say yes," she explains. "I have a very supportive husband, and my sister has been there for all of the big medical decisions." Alexa has also given her house keys to two trusted neighbors. "If I'm out and can't reach my mother," she explains, "I'll call and ask them to check on her."