For adults with jobs, kids and other responsibilities, the challenges of caring for elderly parents should not be underestimated. Studies show caregivers often put their own health to the side: The National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare found that 72 percent of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should, 63 percent of caregivers say their eating habits have gotten worse and 58 percent cop to exercising less. The National Alliance for Caregiving also say that as much as 70 percent of caregivers have symptoms of clinical depression.
Despite these scary stats, “caregiving can be rewarding despite the challenges,” says Care.com’s VP of Senior Care Services, Jody Gastfriend, LICSW. “But the caregiver must avoid caregiver burnout and subsequent health problems. While 80 percent of long-term care is provided by unpaid family members, the majority don’t identify themselves as caregivers and don’t seek support.”
Advice and support can be found at local hospitals, senior centers, health clinics and online. Good primary care, for both the caregiver and parent, is essential. It starts with acquiring knowledge, Gastfriend says: “Adult children can educate themselves about the type of chronic illness their parent is suffering from and what type of care [that person] may need down the road. Sometimes changes in behavior and cognition are reversible, either related to an illness, medications or depression.”
Conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can make staying at home an even greater challenge, as caregivers are often thinking for two.
“Keep options open and make decisions based on what is best for the care recipient as well as for the caregiver,” Gastfriend. Sometimes that means looking into outside help. “My father, who had dementia for over 10 years, spent half of that time in a nursing home. It was the best and safest place for him and for my mother, who eventually could not manage my dad’s care.”
Gastfriend, who cared for her mother, recommends being prepared for unexpected events and costs, like additional medical bills. Respecting that elderly parents are still parents, in addition, makes for better communication.
“Do not to look at caregiving as a role reversal,” Gastfriend says. “It’s important to help your loved one maintain a sense of control, however minimal, so that their dignity and sense of self is not completely undermined by their condition.”
Books to help
“My Health & Wellness Organizer”
by Puja A. J. Johnson
This three-ring binder offers advice and is useful for storing important health forms, keeping track of appointments and filing bills.
“How to Care for Aging Parents”
by Virginia Morris
The revised and expanded edition has medical, financial and legal info, plus tips on self-care and navigating challenging sibling, spousal and parent-child relationships.