You thought you could do it all: hold down a job, run your life … and care for Mom and Dad when they began to need help at home. Now you’re learning that there’s more to senior care than responding to requests. First off, older adults may hesitate to ask for your help, especially when tasks seem either simple or too much of a burden. Secondly, caregiving is an ongoing responsibility, not one that is effectively doled out as circumstances arise. What you need is a system–and some help, yourself.
Statistics reveal a growing crisis in the United States: caregiver burnout. It sounds cliché, but it’s very real health and health care problem. When those in charge run out of steam, it affects both givers and receivers. Government agencies are finding that a breakdown in family caregiving adds to the load on public Medicare and Medicaid systems. Consider the magnitude of the problem as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
One in five American households includes someone who either needs home care or who provides it
More than 34 million people provide unpaid care for a disabled or needy adult, many of them older Americans
An annual (2007) estimate of the combined value of this service was $375 billion
Now, suppose health troubles related to mental or physical burnout cause members of this caregiving army to drop out. The economic impact on the Medicare safety net would be staggering–and a sudden lack of care would reduce the quality and length of many, many older people’s lives. The truth is, this trend is already building.
Realistically Assessing The Situation
Fortunately, caregivers themselves have the power to avert this catastrophe. But they must first recognize their potential role in it. What would happen if you fell ill and couldn’t care for Mom and Dad any longer? The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that failing caregiver health is the top reason for a family member placing a loved one in a nursing home.
If you are one of the thoughtful people responsible for an aging parent who lives at home, it’s time to reevaluate the consequences of your hard work. How much can you realistically do for Mom and Dad–and for how long? Your local senior care agency offers several ways to prevent illness related to in-home care on your end and to keep your parents safe and healthy without interruption. Here are some options for securing the help you need to stay strong enough to assist your parents.
Part-Time At-Home Care
To ease your workload and worry, why not look into getting paid help for part of the day or week? A professional caregiver who makes home visits can ensure that your folks stay safe and comfortable and follow their daily health routines. It’s wise to hire through an agency that screens and trains in-home aides, so you can feel confident about their integrity and the quality of their work. Senior care agencies also take care of payroll and tax obligations, so you don’t have to.
What would part-time care look like at your parents’ house? Does Mom need help doing laundry and making beds? Would Dad like to enjoy a daily walk in the park? If your folks are still ambulatory and don’t need medical treatments or 24-hour supervision, you might hire a caregiver to provide:
Home safety checks
Meal service and clean-up
Accompaniment to appointments and around town
Part-time caregivers can also help seniors with daily grooming or remembering to take pills. These tasks can be added to light duties like doing laundry and making meals. Unlike regular housekeepers, trained caregivers who do these things are also responsible for detecting health and safety issues in seniors’ living situations. They can support your parents’ health by taking over tasks that have become strenuous for them.
Paid caregivers support your health, too. You can take time off for yourself knowing that there won’t be missed appointments or a break in important routines at home. An agency caregiver will be glad to help Mom and Dad get ready for outings on time, escort them, and bring them home. The daily or weekly to-do list will be whittled down–and your parents will stay safe–while you are away.
Medical and Round-the-Clock Care
If your personal schedule has changed or your parents’ needs have grown more acute, moving them to a nursing home is not the only option. Senior care agencies offer skilled assistance of different types and degrees. Many of these businesses attract and retain professionals experienced in supervision of disabled seniors and post-surgical and Alzheimer’s patients. For 24-hour care, two part-time aides or one live-in and one part-time caregiver share the responsibility.
If Mom’s dementia or Dad’s issues following a stroke have overwhelmed your abilities, seek help before the situation takes a toll on everyone’s health. Securing in-home care for your parents prevents a disturbing move to an unfamiliar environment when they are at a vulnerable stage. It also helps you integrate more advanced attention for your loved ones into your life–reducing your stress level and improving your health.
For instance, Mom’s progressive dementia may benefit from comprehensive memory care that includes:
Mentally stimulating activities
Companionship and social contact
Dad’s mental and physical effects from a stroke may require rehabilitative care that includes:
Prescription drug management
Transportation and escort to medical appointments
Help with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, grooming and toileting
You can hire skilled help to do only the things that are a challenge for you, or request 24-hour care that covers all of your parents’ health and safety needs. Even this type of intensive service competes affordably with assisted-living or nursing homes. That’s because residential programs have high overhead costs and must satisfy large groups of seniors. Getting one-on-one care through a reputable agency that recruits, screens, and trains its employees adds value to your investment in your aging parents’ care at home.
But, what about your own health? According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, family members who care for someone at home get sick more often. They also have double the risk of noncaregivers for heart problems, diabetes, and cancer. This may be due to selflessly putting others’ needs first. Statistics suggest that the growing caregiver crisis reflects these family members’ tendencies to not:
fill a needed personal prescription
engage in preventive measures like exercise and health screenings
These negative behaviors contribute to the increased risk for serious chronic diseases. The stress of providing daily care also raises the odds of caregivers developing clinical depression or substance dependencies. Many report ongoing feelings of hostility, anxiety, and poor self-esteem.
The Benefits of Respite Care
You can counteract the physical and mental toll of providing senior care for your family by simply taking a break every now and then–guilt and worry free. Ask your local agency manager about in-home respite care. A qualified individual will step in to relieve you of your responsibilities on your schedule so that you can take care of yourself. Catch up with friends, take care of doctor and dentist appointments, go shopping for a new outfit, or … just do nothing for a few hours. You’ll feel like a new person.
Accepted research shows that respite care positively affects the health of caregivers like you. Therefore, your local social service agency may offer respite care financial support for which you qualify. Use respite care to start a new routine that includes regular time to exercise, socialize, and relax, even if only for a short time each day or week.
Seniors who need assistance are only as healthy and secure as their caregivers are. Remember, in-home care isn’t just for Mom and Dad. Now is the time to help your aging parents by helping yourself.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Protecting the Health of Family Caregivers”