You’re Not Alone: Caring for Your Aging Parent

As the circle of life has it, those who cared for you as a child are now needing you to care for them.  This is not an easy change from a psychological, emotional, time management, career, personal health or financial standpoint. Know, though, that you are not alone, and are part of an increasingly large group of family caregivers.

Why the increase in family care?

First of all, why is there such an increase in the number of aging parents needing in-home care? There are a number of contributing factors: people living longer (both adult children and our parents), higher divorce rates that leave the child rather than the spouse as the caregiver, concerns regarding costs of professional care, and general personal preference on the part of the parent and/or the child.

Why is it so much different than in the past? The baby boomers had less children than did their parents, distributing the responsibility of parental care across less children and incomes. Also, daughters are twice as likely to care for parents than sons are. As women’s incomes continue to increase from where they were during past generations, a daughter reducing hours or leaving the workforce to care for parents has a much larger impact on a family’s financial situation than in the past when a woman’s income provided a more nominal portion of a family’s total earnings.

Furthermore, there is the rising phenomenon of the Sandwich Generation. It can be described many ways, but it basically refers to people simultaneously responsible financially or otherwise for family members older (parents, grandparents) and younger (children, grandchildren). According to SeniorLiving.org, 1 in 7 adults in their 40’s or 50’s are currently financially assisting both their parent(s) and one or more children.

In Numbers

A study from Center for Retirement Research at Boston College was done that shines a light on some interesting statistics regarding children caregivers:

  • About 17% of adult children will serve as caregivers for their parents. The National Alliance for Caregiving figures that from the over 65.7 million Americans currently providing care for a family member, 36% are adult children caring for an elderly parent.
  • 10% of adults ages 60-69 with living parents serve as caregivers, as do 12% of adults over 70 years old.
  • Adult children caregivers spend 77-95 hours providing parental care per month
  • Daughters, especially unmarried ones, are twice as likely as sons to provide parental care.
  • Caregivers spent an average of 35% of their budget on parental care.

So what to do?

  • Be aware of the myriad of emotions you may feel. From grief and anger to fear and sadness, let yourself accept that these are all-natural emotions. You may even be happy to have this time to bond with your parent despite what may have brought you to this place.
  • Try not to take on more than you can handle. There is a plethora of resources and technologies that can help alleviate the stress and responsibility you are experiencing. And remember, it’s okay to admit you need help or you’ve reached your limit. No parent wants to see their child suffer, and you’re only human.
  • Take care of yourself. Although you may feel like you can’t fit anymore into your schedule, setting aside time for yourself can help give you the strength and sanity to take on whatever challenges you may be facing. If you feel selfish for “me” time, remember that in order to best take care of those around you, you must first take care of yourself. This includes sleeping, eating a healthy diet, and finding a little bit of time each day for yourself. Also, it’s important not to let yourself become isolated. Make sure you’re still leaving the house and staying in contact with friends.
  • Don’t go it alone. Even though you may feel you are the one solely responsible, there are support networks online for home caregivers. There are millions in your position.
  • Look for technologies that can help. Knowing your parent is sleeping well can help alleviate some stress and help you get the sleep you need. Vitals and alarm systems such as Aulisa Medical’s Guardian Angel® can track vitals and alert you if your parent is experiencing any issues. Be sure whatever system you use, look for something that uses FDA Cleared technology, integrates alarms so you don’t have to wonder, and ideally is wireless so your parent can go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to disconnect (plus, it is good to have no cords to get twisted in). Besides monitoring, there are fall alarms and other technologies that can give you some piece of mind.

My parents are still going strong! Should I be doing anything?

First of all, be appreciative of their strength, health, and your time with them. Take the time to visit your parents on a regular basis. If you live far away, be sure to at least talk with them regularly. More than 50% of people over the age of 85 need help with daily living tasks, ranging from shopping and taking medication to more basic self-care activities such as getting out of bed, bathing, and so on. Regular communication will make it easier to identify struggles they may be having and help them stay in their home for as long as possible.

It is also good to familiarize yourself with the most common signs of dementia and stroke, and how to handle both.

All unique, yet all the same

No one’s life is exactly like another’s. Our personalities, health conditions, financial strength, network, and so on all differ, yet if you’re caring for a loved one at home you’re undoubtedly going through the same thing as millions of others. Share your tips for things that have helped you and your family.

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