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Work & Life: Caring for Aging Parents





NANCY LOVELL RECENTLY got her first glimpse of what life will be like simultaneously running a business and caring for an aging parent.

A month ago, her 90-year-old father slipped, broke his arm and was unable to take care of himself. Lovell, co-founder of Dallas marketing firm Lovell/Fairchild Communications, dropped everything to spend 10 days with her father and her 84-year-old mother in Pittsfield, Ill. Among the tasks: moving her parents' bedroom to a lower floor, getting her father a temporary spot in a nursing home, and lining up daytime help for his return home.

Lovell, who was forced to cancel two important meetings and rely heavily on her business partner during the time away, is now back at work — at least physically. "You don't realize the emotional fatigue," she says. "There's been a strain on my ability to do business."

For business owners in particular, caring for an elderly relative can take a toll. While there are no hard statistics, elder-care experts say that within families, it’s often the sibling who's an entrepreneur that becomes chief caretaker. That's partly because business owners have a natural "take-charge" personality — and partly because others in the family (especially those who work full time) perceive them to have more flexible schedules.

"It falls on me," says Lynda Patriquin, a franchise owner in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., of the care of her elderly parents who live in Phoenix, a six-hour drive away. While Patriquin has two sisters, the family attitude is "oh, she has her own business; she can take off when she wants," she says. But Patriquin is finding it increasingly difficult to leave her business — she owns two Home Instead home-health-care franchises — and 120 employees on a moment's notice. Meanwhile, her parents' health is deteriorating. "It's not going to get better," she says. "It's going to get worse."

For their own peace of mind and for the financial well-being of their companies, business owners need to have a plan in place. Here's a rundown of what they should do to prepare.

• Envision the worst-case scenario. Just as businesses need to prepare for hurricanes, floods or any calamity that threatens day-to-day operations, a business owner needs to prepare for the day an aging relative needs immediate care, suggests Barth Holohan, president of Continuum, a St. Louis home-health-care company. They should put together a disaster plan that outlines the responsibilities of various family members (from who can be there first, to who will manage the relative's finances); the geriatric-care facilities to call; and the location of an elderly relative's documents. Adult children should talk to older family members, while they're still in good health, about drawing up a power of attorney, a living will and medical directives. "It's better to be proactive, rather than reactive," says Holohan.

• Write out a mission statement. Once you're charged with the care of an elderly relative, craft a long-term plan that will serve as a reminder of what you can or cannot do, says Denise Brown, founder of Caregiving.com, an online resource for family caregivers based in Park Ridge, Ill. For instance, identify slow periods during the work day when you are available to visit doctors or make nonemergency calls to geriatric-care managers or siblings. A written plan "puts control in a seemingly uncontrollable situation," she says. "It's perfect for a small-business owner used to that idea of 'what's my mission for my business.'"

• Delegate. Just as you do in business, realize that you can't do everything, says Marion Somers, a geriatric-care consultant in New York and author of "Elder Care Made Easier." For starters, divvy up elder-care responsibilities with siblings or other family members, especially if you live far away from your aging relative. Then, outsource. Contact a local restaurant to deliver meals to your relative's home, or hire a caregiver to help an elderly parent with everything from bathing to grocery shopping to housekeeping. For advanced care, hire a geriatric-care manager to figure out the best plan; a good site to check is the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Makers. The best advice? Manage the care of an elderly relative "like a business," Somers says, "but keep the heart in there."

• Invest in technology. A growing number of services offer electronic-monitoring systems that, with the elderly relative's permission, can be installed in the home to detect daily activity patterns. The most common systems use wireless motion or contact sensors (on places like doorways, walls or ceilings) to monitor when seniors go to sleep, eat meals or take medicine. If an unusual pattern develops, word can be sent to family members or emergency workers. "For somebody living alone, I think it should be mandatory," says Somers. Systems vary in price and range from simple sensors to arguably more invasive video cameras. Options include QuietCare, from Living Independently, which starts at $299 to install and $99 a month; and SimplyHome, from Community Management Initiative, which starts at $300 to install and $50 to $55 a month.

• Create a mobile office. With the right combination of portable gadgets, a business owner can easily work remotely if they need to. Lovell, who's planning more trips to Illinois to check on her parents, says she's buying a new laptop that allows her to work "from a distance and from a waiting room." It might not be the ideal circumstance, but it's the best way to "keep the important things important," she says.

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