Families face difficult decisions when it comes to aging parents

by Jenna Cannon

She could sense that her memory was slipping away. So, at age 92, Phyllis Duncan made a life-changing decision. She wanted to move into an assisted living facility.

On the other hand, 95-year-old Beth Harris decided to stay at home. This choice enabled her to maintain her independence but required assistance from her family.

The choice of moving into an assisted living facility or remaining at home is not only a hard decision for an aging person, it is also hard on the family.

Duncan had seen other families go through hardships when faced with caring for elderly parents so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She sacrificed her independence for the well-being of her children. But many elderly individuals are like Harris and try to keep their independence intact by staying at home.

Deciding what to do when a parent is no longer able to care for him- or herself is a difficult decision that many families are faced with.

“People wait and wait, often at their own expense and health,” said Scott D. Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program Center on Aging at the University of Utah.

There are numerous options to consider, but determining which option will work best for a family and an aged person is hard to agree upon. Many families try to take care of the parent, but there comes a point when they can no longer provide the care.

Utah families have been hit hard with this dilemma. “Utah is the fifth fastest growing state for an aging population,” Wright said.

Connie Carter can attest to this. Her family is currently faced with caring for two parents. She is Duncan’s daughter and Harris’ daughter-in-law.

The situation with Harris has brought many hardships. Harris still lives at home, but cannot be left alone for more than two hours at a time. Carter said caring for Harris is a lot of work and puts a strain on the family.

Despite this, Harris’ family wants to keep taking care of her at home due to financial reasons. Carter said they don’t think it’s necessary to put her in a care center when they can help her for a fraction of the cost.

According to pricing information on assistedlivingutah.com, the cost of elderly living facilities can cost upwards of $4,000 a month. To some, avoiding this hefty fee is worth the extra work that caring for a parent requires.

Carter’s mother, Phyllis Duncan, is paying for medical treatment and housing costs at Canyon Creek Assisted Living & Memory Care in Midvale, Utah. In order to pay for her care, Carter’s family was forced to sell her home. Proceeds from the sale are being used to pay her living expenses.

“This decision was easier than fighting over what to do and causing a rift between family members,” Carter said. In her experience, she has seen that most families that end up taking care of the elderly end up having hard feelings. Because of this she is relieved that her mother made the decision for them. Her family has been calm and peaceful about the situation.

Harris’ family is in control of her care and they are able to maintain her assets. However, these positive aspects come at the cost of her children’s personal health and well-being. On the other hand, Duncan is given 24-hour medical assistance and is able to live in an environment that satisfies her needs.

Determining what to do comes down to maintaining the highest levels of health and happiness for all the parties involved. The situation that works for one family may not work for another family.

Harris still seeks her independence by staying at home. She is happy and comfortable there, but her children worry about her deteriorating health. Carter hopes they can respect her wishes and continue taking care of her at home.

Duncan is now 97. Her memory loss is increasing, but she exhibits no signs of health problems. Her family is pleased to know she is well taken care of and she is content with her choice to move into an assisted living facility.