As the medical industry advances, more and more Americans are living longer, healthier lives but eventually, even generally healthy elderly adults may need help with day-to-day tasks. As a result, more and more adult children are becoming caregivers for their parents.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to and adult age 50 or older in the last year. Many people become a primary caregiver out of a sense of duty or even guilt. While these feelings are understandable, you may not be entirely prepared for all of the time and responsibilities a caregiving role may require. This type of commitment can be taxing for even the strongest person. Before making the decision to become the primary caregiver for a parent here are a few things you should consider:
1. Are you up to the physical challenge of caregiving?
Physically, you may need to assist with siting, standing and getting out of bed. People who are inexperienced with these types of transfers can easily injure themselves with pulled or strained muscles. Other tasks may include dressing, bathing, feeding and assisting with bathroom trips. You may also need to administer medical care, such as wound care or daily doses of medicine including injections.
2. Do you have the time caregiving will take?
Caring for an elderly parent takes a considerable amount of time. Your schedule will likely need to change to fit their lives too. Driving them to doctor’s appointments or physical therapy might need to take precedence over things you would normally be doing. Also consider how this time will affect your children and spouse. They sometimes view time spent caring for your parent as time taken from them. Always remember to take time for yourself to avoid getting burnt out by planning guilt-free downtime. Personal sacrifices of time can create feelings of resentfulness toward a parent. Be sure to think about how long you will be able to take care of your parent. As people live longer, the time spent under the care of someone else increases. Will you be able to provide care for 2 years, 5 years, 10 years or possibly even longer?
3. Can you balance work and caregiving duties?
If you still work, you need to think about how caregiving may affect your job. Do you have an employer who will make concessions for you? Caring for a parent may mean that you need to arrive to work late, leave early, or miss work to attend doctor appointments. You might not be able to travel for business. Depending on the demands of your job, your employer may take issue with these types of disruptions. Speak openly and work together for a solution that fits both your needs and your employer’s needs. Also, consider the potential for taking leave to care for your parent using the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires covered employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons.
4. Consider your parents medical condition.
Prepare yourself for things to come by educating yourself about your parent’s illnesses or conditions. Family members may jump in headfirst and assume that they can handle the responsibilities. However sometimes professional assistance may be a better option for both you and your parent. Honestly evaluate how much you know about elder care. A professional is familiar with the many conditions that go hand in hand with aging. An experienced caregiver will be able to identify early symptoms and warning signs of various medical conditions allowing you to take appropriate action before things advance too far.
5. Watch for behavioral changes.
Many times, especially in cases of dementia a parent may make hurtful comments to their caregiver. Dementia also makes it more difficult to control one’s emotional state. Will you be able to handle being screamed at for something you didn’t do? Some people become violent, paranoid and even dangerous. It is important to try not to take these actions personally. Try to identify what triggers outbursts or violent behavior. Often confusion, frustration or embarrassment can lead to these types of episodes. You can diffuse such situations by remaining calm, validating their feelings, and smiling. Also, try to keep a steady routine.
6. Consider their living situation and yours.
As with any new arrangement logistical and financial implications must be considered for both your parent and your household. Will they live in your home or an apartment nearby? If you decide moving into your home is the best option, consider how the household routines will change. Are there a lot of stairs? Will they be able to move about freely? Will they be able to access bathrooms and showers without too much risk of falling? Also sharing a home can be overwhelming for someone who has lived alone for years. Keep in mind you may need to take on additional costs such as minor home renovations, pharmacy bills, as well as additional food and toiletries to cover basic needs.
Ty Strahl is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) based in Spokane Washington. Her job is to help navigate the many aspects of aging and to help seniors who are in transition to find the right solutions for their individual needs.