Your elderly parent wants to age in place – in other words, stay in their current home. Things were going well until they were hospitalized recently. It looks like they’re going to need ongoing support at home for the foreseeable future.

Your parent lives in Ontario, so you contact their Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), the agency responsible for coordinating government-funded home care services. You soon discover that the amount of home care the LHIN can provide is far less than what your parent needs.

You’re left scrambling. You look into private-pay home care, but you soon realize the cost is more than you or your parent can afford on an ongoing basis. You consider ways your family might be able to provide the support yourselves, but as much as you want to be there for your parent, you’re not sure it’s a realistic option.

It’s beginning to look like your parent won’t be able stay in their current home after all.

The realities of aging-in-place in Ontario

This scenario plays out in Ontario every day. Families assume there will be sufficient publicly-funded community services to allow their elderly parents to age in place. And yet, when a health crisis arises, they often discover the reality is very different and have to desperately seek other options.

Sometimes there’s a lot of guilt wrapped up in this. Adult children may feel like they’re letting their parents down by failing to honour their wish to stay at home.

They feel unprepared, trying to help a parent who’s being forced into making life-altering decisions, sometimes within a matter of days or even hours, especially if the hospital decides it’s not safe for them to go home.

Don’t let a health emergency catch you unprepared

These sort of situations are never easy. But if you come into them prepared with an awareness of some of the challenges you’re likely to run up against, you’ll be in a better position to support your parent in their moment of need.

Here are some of the things you can do to prepare:

  1. Collect information you might need in an emergency

If your parent is unexpectedly admitted to the hospital, you may well need to provide information on their behalf, things like a medication list, a summary of their existing health concerns, names and contact information for their various physicians, or basic details about any supplemental health insurance they might have. 

Finding this information in the middle of a crisis will likely be stressful and difficult. That’s why collecting it ahead of time is a good idea. You can use my free Emergency Checklist for Seniors and Families [link] to capture this information. It also provides space for you to record financial / banking information in case you’re called upon to do something like make sure your parent’s bills continue to be paid on time while they’re in hospital.

  1. Make sure your parent has a power of attorney

Your parent may temporarily be unable to make their own decisions during a health crisis. That’s why it’s important for them to designate ahead of time who will make decisions on their behalf.

A power of attorney is a legal document that does just that. In Ontario, there are two different types of power of attorney. A Power of Attorney for Personal Care states who will make personal health decisions on someone’s behalf in the event they are incapable of making those decisions themselves. A Power of Attorney for Property designates someone to make financial decisions (like paying bills, managing investments, or maintaining or selling a house) on someone’s behalf.

Although a power of attorney is a legal document, it doesn’t necessarily have to be completed with the assistance of a lawyer. The Government of Ontario has a Power of Attorney Kit that you can download for free.

Having powers of attorney in place can help to avoid potential confusion or tensions within your family about who should be “in charge” if your parent is suddenly unable to make their own decisions.

  1. Discuss all this with your parent

You may be reluctant to raise these issues with your parent. Perhaps you’re worried they might get the wrong idea and think you’re indirectly questioning their ability to continue living in their current home. Or maybe you’re concerned about coming across as an alarmist, dwelling unnecessarily on awful things that might happen but may never come to pass. 

With that in mind, here’s one way you could start the discussion. You could say something like:

“You know I support you living out your days in this house, and I’ll do all that I can to help you make that happen. At the same time, I think we need to have an emergency plan in place just in case the unthinkable happens and you have a serious illness. That way, you can make sure everything important in your life is looked after while you’re ill. And we’re clear on how you’d like me (or other members of the family) to act on your behalf, if that’s necessary.”

The intent of phrasing things this way is to give them a sense of control. They get to state their wishes up front. It also reassures them you’re not wavering from your commitment to help them age in place. 

Once you have an emergency plan in place, your parent may be more willing to start talking about contingencies like what if – despite everyone’s best efforts – continuing to live in their current home isn’t as attractive as it is today. Maybe their house is a split level. What happens if they can’t manage stairs sometime in the future?

Get help developing a contingency plan

If they’re willing to start talking about this sort of thing, it may be time to involve a professional who can help your parent begin to plan for the possibility of living somewhere else should the need arise. Developing such a plan is another way of making sure your parent’s preferences are honoured even if circumstances change. 

Involving them at this stage means that if your parent does have to move sometime in the future you have someone in your corner who’s already familiar with their preferences and can help you manage the transition to a new living situation.

Summing up

Don’t get caught out assuming that publicly-funded programs will be there to keep your parent at home in the future. Develop an emergency plan. Make sure your parent has powers of attorney in place. Reassure them you’re committed to helping them age in place, but you also want to know how they’d like you to act on their behalf should they have a serious illness. And consider involving a professional to help you and your parent develop a contingency plan that considers other living options. It can save you a lot of stress and heartache in the future.

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