According to a 2009 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving 29 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 65.7 million people, are caregivers of older adults age 65 or older or a family member with special needs. On an average, these caregivers provide 20 hours of care a week for eight years. Additionally, most family caregivers are balancing care responsibilities with full time jobs and raising children. Adult children of aging parents are certainly not alone and maintaining health and balance is vital to avoid the burn out and illness that often accompany the demands of providing care.
The tools below may help in this goal:
- Tool #1: Self-Care
- Tool #2: Seeking Solutions
- Tool #3: Plan Ahead
- Tool #4: Asking for and Accepting Help
Tool #1: Self Care
The fact that caregivers of aging parents experience stress and burn out is well-documented. There are also many rewards to providing care, however, keeping stress in check is important to both the care giver and the recipient of the care. Taking a break from the duties of caregiving even for an hour a day can tip the scales in maintaining physical and mental health. Ask for help from family or friends with chores or to stay with your loved one for even an hour to take the time to exercise, take a walk, spend time with friends, window shop, or whatever pastime brings you happiness.
One way to grab some down time is to join an in-person support group or an on-line support group. If support groups are not your thing, check out a message board on caregiving to see what other caregivers are talking about and to know you are not alone.
Tool #2: Seeking Solutions
Check work-life or employee assistance polices offered by your employer. Inquire about flex-time or telecommuting one day a week or more to free up time and reduce stress. The Family Medical Leave Act also provides time off without pay for people caring for family members.
Consider an Adult Day Care center for your loved one to attend during the day to provide a break for you and reduce social isolation for them. Research alternative solutions for transportation, options for meals, shopping and running errands. Check with your local Council on Aging for resources.
Many church parishes have a nurse or friendly visitor program. Also check the local service organizations such as the Kiwanis and the Lions Club for possible resources. Another place to inquire about help with chores, yardwork or shopping is the Boy Scout or Girls Scout Troops, the local high school and local church ministry groups where teens are seeking out service projects to complete.
Tool # 3: Plan Ahead
Plan ahead for what your response will be to a crisis situation and have the resources you need lined up to help your aging parents. Knowing that there is a plan in place is a great stress reducer. Homecare agencies offer non-medical care for help with bathing, dressing and meal preparation. Professional geriatric care managers coordinate and oversee care including attending doctor appointments and meeting your parent in the ER to be an advocate should an emergency arise. A geriatric care manager is usually a social worker or nurse.
Interview companies now to be able to activate services when you need immediate respite or your parent’s condition changes and they need more help.
Know if the following documents are in order and their location:
- Advance Health Care Directives – explains health care wishes.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finance – authority to make financial decisions.
- Health Care Power of Attorney – authority to make health care decisions.
- Will – how property should be passed on after death.
- Living Will – directs doctors regarding life-sustaining treatment.
- Revocable Living Trust – how proper will be transferred after death
- Bank Account Access – joint ownership or permission to access is in place.
Contact an elder law attorney to learn more about these documents.
Tool #4: Asking for and Accepting Help
Pulling together an informal network of help may be easier than you’d expect. When visiting my mother home after hospitalization, I was surprised how many neighbors I had never met stopped by the house to offer help with groceries and preparing meals. Perhaps there are neighbors your parent may know that you are not aware of that may be willing to help or a least be willing to check in with a phone call or visit to your parent and alert you if there is anything wrong.
Calling a family meeting in necessary either in person or by phone or internet. Initiate the conversation about what kind of care and support is needed and whose responsibility it is to either provide it or research the services available. Differences and resentments will usually come forward in full force with these type of conversations. Attempt to keep the focus on the reason you’ve come together – your loved one’s care needs. Hopefully, all members will be willing to help to lessen the load, but be prepared to pick your battles with family members.