Caring for an aging family member is a labor of love. But study after study also shows the emotional, physical, and even financial stress that the caregiver incurs as a result. Caregiver assistance is vitally important to making sure a caregiver can serve the role effectively while also guarding his/her own health.
Research conducted by MetLife revealed that approximately 10 million adult children over the age of 50 (that's roughly a quarter of all Baby Boomers!) have taken on the role of caregiver for their aging parents, helping with a variety of tasks–everything from running errands and cooking to bathing and using the toilet. It's a lot to take on, especially for caregivers who may also be juggling a career and their own children, which is likely why caregivers over age 50 who work and provide care to a parent are more likely to have fair or poor health as compared to peers who do not provide elder care.
A few other noteworthy stats from the study:
- Adult daughters are more likely to provide help with daily care, and sons are more likely to provide monetary assistance.
The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of these adult-child caregivers is nearly $3 trillion.
- For women, the total individual amount of lost income (wages, Social Security benefits, pension) due to leaving the labor force early and/or reducing hours of work because of caregiving responsibilities averages $324,044. For men, it averages $283,716.
Yet despite all of these physical and financial drawbacks, the adult-child-as-caregiver trend continues to grow rapidly in the United States. The MetLife study showed that the number of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to an aging parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years.
It seems that caring for an aging parent is here to stay. So what can caregivers do to help alleviate some of the stress associated with the gig? Here are a few recommendations:
Prioritize your health
You can't take care of someone else if you yourself are not healthy. A lot of elements fall under this category, but the short list would include:
- Get sufficient sleep, which also means laying off the caffeine.
- Eat healthfully, either by preparing healthy meals at home or finding local restaurants or meal delivery services that can provide nutritious food.
- Exercise, even if it just means taking 15 minutes to walk around the block once or twice a day.
- Go to the doctor (and dentist) to ensure you stay on top of any medical issues that might arise.
- Take time away from your caregiving duties, and don't feel guilty about it; everyone needs an occasional day off!
There are only so many hours in your day, and caring for an elderly loved one can eat up a lot of time, so find an organization system that works for you and your family. Perhaps it is a large calendar where you and other family members denote appointments and events. Maybe it means prioritizing “extracurricular” activities and dropping a few that aren't as important. Or it could be that a “to-do” list–either on paper or an app on your smartphone–saves you time and headaches. Whatever you choose, find a system that works for you, and it will automatically reduce headaches!
Talk about it
The anxiety associated with caregiving is up there with the stress people experience with new babies, career changes, deaths, and other major life moments. Talking to a trained therapist about the pressure, anger, and other emotions your feel as a result of caregiving can be a welcome release. There are also numerous support groups offered for caregivers where you can find other people who are going through the same thing as you and can offer advice and emotional support. Family Caregiver Alliance and the Alzheimer's Association offer online support groups, as well as several in-person groups.
Consider you options
If you agreed to provide care for an aging parent but then realized you have bitten off more you can chew, it is good to understand all of your choices for caregiver assistance. A few to consider:
- Assistive technologies can help seniors in a variety of ways and also give their families peace of mind if they are not physically with their loved one. There are more and more digital devices and computer programs that can do things like help keep track of when to take medications, convert e-books into larger type, monitor when doors open and close (even the refrigerator and microwave door), or get immediate help in an emergency situation.
- A home-health aide can come to your/your loved one's home for several hours a day to assist with medical and non-medical needs.
- Similar to daycare for children, adult day care facilities will supervise your loved one for four or five hours a day. Some of these facilities even offer activities like music, art, and exercise. It is important to note that if your loved one has long-term care insurance, it may cover some of this expense.
- Assisted living facilities provide seniors with help for daily living activities such as preparing meals, housekeeping, and personal care. While most assisted living facilities have residents who are there for the long-term, some facilities also offer short-term stays (also known as respite care). Long-term care insurance may cover some of this cost too.
Eldercare Locator and the Alzheimer's Association's Community Resources Finder can help you locate adult care in your area. For more information on assisted living and long-term care, read A Summary of Long-Term Care and the Payment Options.
Put on your oxygen mask first
It's like they say on an airplane: be sure to put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you. Caring for an aging parent or family member is stressful, but you have to be sure to take care of yourself too. If you educate yourself about the various caregiver assistance options that are available to you and your family, you can improve quality of life for both you and the people you care for.