The United States is getting older. Population numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau report that the number of American seniors now exceeds 54 million. With more seniors, more family members are being called upon to become caregivers to help at some level (the National Alliance for Caregiving reports that almost one-third of Americans have assumed this role). Aging baby boomers will increase this ratio, resulting in an increased certainty that family members will have an aging senior in their lives and may care (or help care) for a parent/friend/spouse/partner.
However, family members often disregard these facts and are caught unaware when a loved one's health begins to decline. There could be various reasons for this. Potential caregivers may believe that the job is solely a family responsibility, not have experience with open family discussions; be embarrassed to ask for help; or prefer not to think about unpleasant topics (e.g., aging, sickness, and death).
I once thought that both my own parents were the pictures of good health. While true at one time, my mother and father both aged, and I saw their physical and mental health slide.
Independence Can Lead to Dependency
The road from maintaining good health to requiring complete medical care can be hard for both seniors and family caregivers. If remaining cognitively aware, parents may realize that they are losing their prized independence and need to entrust much of that control to their children.
Giving up the car keys or complete decision-making ability may be considered a weakness. Family caregivers must take on new responsibilities; balance their own lives, careers, families, and outside interests/obligations; and watch as a parent mentally and physically weakens. Proactive, not reactive, planning can make the process easier for all parties. Have you considered the following?
Examining Your Own Family's Medical History
Is there cancer or heart disease in your family's past? If the ailment is hereditary, another relative may be stricken with the same condition. Before a parent ends up requiring eldercare, take some time to learn about the specific condition. Ask the family doctor what to expect.
You can search the internet but be wary of the source of information and when the information posted? Look to see if the posted information has been updated – and when. What are the writer's credentials?
You can also read subject-specific books as a good source of information.
Preparing Yourself Emotionally
Caregivers will experience predictable and unpredictable emotions. When my father was stricken with Alzheimer's disease, there were days I laughed, cried, felt frustrated, and didn't know what to feel. Often, there is nothing a caregiver can do but stand by and helplessly watch. With no cure for my father's health condition, I concentrated on advocating for him and keeping him as safe and comfortable as possible.
Losing a loved one (or even imagining losing this special person) slowly or suddenly can be immensely challenging, and rightly so – you are losing someone you care for deeply.
Creating a Support Circle
Potential and new family caregivers may feel that they can manage the job independently or feel obligated to do so. Instead, they need to build a strong support circle; these will be the people they know and trust the most. Anything they can do can be of benefit; however, they can also reach out to a loved one's doctor, condition-specific health organizations (e.g., Heart and Stroke Foundation), professional caregiving companies, local senior's transportation providers, and so on.
These resources (and many others) can provide information, a helping hand when needed, and respite when a caregiver requires a break. Admitting that you may need caregiving help and accepting that help are not signs of personal weakness.
Reading the Will
Many of the most difficult decisions may have already been made by seniors when they were of sound mind and body. While acting on these requests can become intense, family members can find comfort in that they do not have to decide what might be best for dependent adults who may not be able to decide what is best for them.
Having set directions to review greatly reduces the anxiety and potential squabbling between family members trying to decide what may be most appropriate and what a parent wants.
Caregiving can be a difficult ride. There are new time demands, different skills to learn, and responsibilities to manage. The job involves many other issues and considerations. Additionally, there are many emotional buttons (for all family members) that can be pushed during this time. Thinking – and acting – ahead will greatly help reduce a caregiver's own anxiety and help him/her best prepare for these future challenges.
About the Author
Rick Lauber is the published author of The Successful Caregiver's Guide and Caregiver's Guide for Canadians, an established freelance writer, and a previous co-caregiver. for both of his aging parents (his mother had Parkinson’s Disease and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer’s disease). With help from his two sisters, Lauber assumed many new-found caregiving responsibilities. Lauber learned that caregiving can impact a person physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially and managed his own health and well-being by writing.
Contributor since November 18th, 2020
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