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.'”