Laura Banasiewicz learned the hard way about the challenges faced by modern “sandwich generation” families.

Two experiences she had caring for her elderly parents and her in-laws have had a profound impact on her work.

Shortly after she took her current job as an advisor at the Winston-Salem, N.C., branch of the Allegacy Federal Credit Union some 18 years ago, her husband’s parents, back in her former home state of Indiana, became ill. She has been doing a lot of traveling, which required her to talk to clients by phone, so her manager allowed her to move back to Indiana to help care for her in-laws while handling her clients from there. (CUSO is the third-party marketer for Allegacy.)

After her in-laws passed away, she moved back to Winston-Salem, but later a new challenge hit. Four years ago, her mother, who had been caring for Banasiewicz’s father, who had early-stage Alzheimer’s, slipped and fell, hitting her head and falling into a coma, from which she eventually died. “He couldn’t take care of himself,” she recalls about her father, “so we moved him into our house.”

With two sons still in high school, she also had the responsibilities of a mother so pressure on her was mounting. Fortunately, her job led to an answer. “One of my clients had just been through a similar situation and he told me about a wonderful home-care aid who, since the passing of his parent, was now available so we hired her.”

Her father eventually passed away, but Banasiewicz says the two experiences made her a fan of long-term care insurance and also made her aware of other cheaper options to extended living or nursing home facilities.

“It has given me a sense of the compassion you need in this business,” she says, “and an understanding of the difficulties people can run into trying to provide care for family members who are sick or aging. It’s taught me to be more patient with clients, and to enjoy the little things in life, like taking my father to the park to feed the ducks.”

It has also honed her skills at finding elder-care resources—like day care services to offer care-givers a respite or the bureaucracy of veterans benefits.

“I’ve become the go-to person at the credit union for elder-care issues,” says Banasiewicz. And while dealing with elder care issues may not be a particularly lucrative part of the planning business, she says her reputation has led to referrals. Recently, a 62-year-old client whom she had helped with elder-care issues referred her to a friend who is suddenly facing having to care for a spouse with dementia.

Those referrals are “a great side effect” of guiding people through a difficult period,” she says. It also builds trust when clients see that “we’re here to be with you on whatever journey you face.”

Banasiewicz has become active with the Alzheimer’s Foundation.  Advisors, she notes, are likely to spot the early signs and should be prepared to act. “The key thing, if you see clients forgetting appointments, is to try to get the children to come in for a meeting.”

But it takes a deft hand, she says. “You can suggest to your client that they might want to bring in their children for a meeting to discuss what should occur if something should happen to them, say a car crash or a stroke...but don’t bring up the memory issue directly. There’s a lot of denial and people can quickly get very defensive.”

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