I have watched it over and over in my professional life and more times than I can count in my personal life: that moment when the needs of an older adult become so pressing that a family member feels that their role is less loved one and more caregiver. It often starts slowly with small needs – transportation, a few household chores – and then evolves into a role that includes medication management, coordination of medical care, assistance with daily activities, full household management and more. It’s a transition that is, at best, difficult and, at worst, overwhelming.
Caregiving is complicated business. In a 2011 AARP study, they found that most caregiving in the United States was being done by women, with an average age of 49 and a full time job. Their “second job” of caregiving added another 20 hours to their work week. For families dealing with caring for an older adult while caring for children still at home, the term “sandwich generation” very much applies and the demands on both sides of the caregiver may seem limitless.
What can you do if you are currently dealing with this situation? What can you do if you see that this kind of caregiving may be ahead of you?
If you are in the caregiving role, remember that there is support available—support of all kinds. Geriatric care managers (Aging Life Care specialists) can help you sort out the needs of your loved one and help you find options. Home care can also be an enormous benefit, with nurses to help set up and manage medications and aides to provide extra hands and companionship. Some of these services have sliding scales to help with costs, others even have volunteers to help fill in the gaps. It may take some looking, but they are out there. Look, as well, at day programs. Medical day programs can meet many needs for an individual—socialization, intellectual stimulation as well as health care and daily needs. Many day programs have multiple funding sources that can help make them a viable option. Other caregivers can also be a great help and support. They may have good ideas and suggestions or just serve as a place where you can “vent” safely and talk through the issues.
If you anticipate an increasing role as a caregiver, one of the most important things you can do now is sit down and talk openly with your loved one. Giving them the opportunity to think through and communicate their desires and preferences will help you determine the best course of action. The time to make these decisions is before the crisis and before the needs become so great that there are no alternatives.
Of course, living at home with care is only one option. There are lots of choices based on the health and preferences of the individual and family, geography, financial ability and all the rest. The important message of all of it is: there is help available for caregivers. Getting that help when you need it can really allow you to continue to feel like “family” as well you should.