© Danielle Robertson Consulting Pty Ltd t/as DR Care Solutions
Accomplished family business adviser, Dean Robinson, is a colleague and friend from my involvement with Family Business Australia (FBA).
Earlier this year, Dean shared his experiences &  as a business owner and joint carer of his mother-in-law, Peggy, who died from the effects of dementia. In recognising World Alzheimer’s Month, Dean has kindly allowed me to share his story.
The story is a reminder that being your own boss is not only about a building business empire, it also gives you choice as to how you spend your time, particularly with ageing parents.
Dean also advises that early preparation in supporting ageing parents can minimise the inevitable disruption to business life. Here’s Dean’s story:
My mother-in-law, Peggy, sadly passed away in March 2012 at the age of 86 from the effects of dementia. It’s often why I’ve called the disease “the long goodbye” as it takes its toll on the body and the mind of the individual and the spirit of those around them.
Peggy lived with us for almost 12 years. It was a sudden arrival into our household after her husband, Wal, passed away unexpectedly late one November evening in 1996.
In my experience, and that of fellow business owners, it’s not until an ageing parent suffers a health event that we realise just how underprepared we are for the time and emotional investment that is required. It is an addition to the list - business life, community work, children and grandchildren.
* * *
It was an expensive time of life when Peggy joined our household - mortgage, young children and a business loan. However, my wife Trish and I made the decision that, for the benefit of not only our children, but also for the care of her mother, Trish would work part time. We factored this into our lives for two reasons:
- Financially, we could afford to.
- Emotionally, it was the right thing to do.
As the years progressed, Peggy grew frailer and her health issues magnified. On a number of occasions, emergency hospital visits were made and Trish, as primary carer, was by Peggy’s side so that she wasn’t overwhelmed with the medical speak or the diagnosis. Thankfully, we’d already structured into our business life that I could take time out to look after our then young sons and provide Trish with as much support as I could.
Ironically, what I was experiencing myself became an important part of advising my clients about caring for their elderly parents and running their family business.
Here are some of the lessons learned:
If your parents are 70 or older, prepare for the unexpected in terms of their health and the time you will need to invest to be there for and with them.
Invariably, the primary responsibility for an elderly parent will fall on one individual in the family. That creates pressure and tension.
Find outside support early. The Camden District Activity Centre was a god-send for us as it gave Peggy a social outlet with people her own age.
Have the conversation early with your parents about their living intentions. Staying in your own home sounds great in theory - but not if it is high maintenance or not geared for ageing and disability.
If you are the only adult child in your family that owns a business, your siblings will expect you to take the greatest level of responsibility. It is perceived, rightly or wrongly, that you can fit elderly care into your day when a full time employee can’t.
Consider a multigenerational household as a transition between your parent’s independence and aged care. Our sons enjoyed experiences with their grandmother that will sit with them for a lifetime simply as a result of Peggy living with us. Our then 8 year old son Fraser learned to make scones with Peggy and still does so today.
Aged care costs money and, potentially, lots of it. Look at the numbers early - and have the hard conversation with your elderly parents about how it’s going to be funded.
Encourage your parents to bring their affairs up to date - then keep them up to date, regularly. It solves problems before they start.
If you prepare early, the inevitable disruption to your business life can be minimised. It also provides you with the opportunity to have the many and varied conversations that most people wish they had done, before it’s no longer possible to do so.
Dementia Activity Poster
If you have a loved one living with dementia, download our activity poster for ideas on activities you both enjoy doing together:
If you would like to start preparing for the journey ahead for your ageing parents, please feel free to contact me, Danielle Robertson, at DR Care Solutions, for an initial discussion on what to focus on.