Caring for Aging Parents

Yesterday, I was talking with a good friend who is flying back and forth to Georgia to take care of her elderly parents.  This is the 3rd time in a month she has left her family of 4 to help her aging parents.  After speaking with her, I read an article in usatoday.com on “Becoming a ‘Parent of your Parent’ an emotionally wrenching process”.  My friend was struggling with the cost of going back and forth from Florida to Georgia not only financially but emotionally as well.  She could not attend her daughter’s Thanksgiving play at school and was too exhausted by the time she traveled back to Florida to enjoy the holiday with her family.  She is bracing herself for Christmas as she will probably be back and forth the entire month of December.  This situation is a sad reminder that elderly care is going to increase over time as the Baby Boomers are aging and we are not prepared on what to do.

Here are some staggering statistics I read in the article:

A USA TODAY/ABC News/Gallup Poll of baby boomers finds that 41% who have a living parent are providing care for them — either financial help, personal care or both — and 8% of boomers say their parents have moved in with them.

Of those who are not caring for an aging parent, 37% say they expect to do so in the future. About half say they’re concerned about being able to provide such care.

The physical toll on the caregivers can be severe. They report having one or more chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, at nearly twice the rate of all Americans. Of those who say their health has worsened because of caregiving, 91% report depression.

I have another friend who just lost her mother.  The 80 year old woman was caring for her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease and was partially blind.  The 24/7 care was too much for her and she died of a stroke.  My friend has now hired caregivers round the clock to watch over her father who refuses to leave his home of 35 years.  She lives in another state and cannot afford to travel or leave her job.  She manages the caregivers from out of state which takes up a lot of time and energy.  My friend also has an unstable job and is a single parent of a teenager.  She is under a lot of stress as many of the hired caregivers don’t stay in their jobs.  Her father is confused by this and doesn’t understand why he has all these strangers in his home.  He calls my friend 30 times a day asking the same questions.    My friend has become worried about her own health as she neglected to exercise, eat right and take care of herself.  She simply doesn’t have time.

The article went on to say:

Caring for elderly parents also can threaten the emotional health of caregivers and their families. Being the “parent of your parent” can unlock your family’s hidden dysfunctions — “You were always Mom’s favorite!” — and reopen old sibling rivalries and conflicts: “You’re trying to kill our father!”

If you never really got along with your parents or your siblings, it can be even more stressful. Elder care can exhaust and sometimes demoralize the caregiver who’s on the front line. And it can frighten and confuse elderly parents.

Many children of aging parents share the burden of caring for them.  This can result in many family squabbles.  I know of one family that is spread out in three states.  The sibling that lives in the state with the aging parent resents the other siblings that cannot be there.  The other two siblings spend large amounts of money to care for their mother and are not happy with the care their sibling is giving.  They argue about their mother but nothing is resolved.

Caring for an aging parent is emotionally draining and can go on for years.  People are living longer and sometimes need assistance and/or medical care for an extended period of time.  This takes an emotional and physical toll on the caregivers.  I believe it is critical that caretakers learn to take care of themselves first.  This means they must ask for help, schedule time to do something they enjoy, take care of their own health, and spend time with their immediate family.  When young parents start a family and face the stress of taking care of an infant they are told to do the same things.  It is no different when taking care of an aging parent. Remember when you fly the adult must use the oxygen mask on the plane first before they give it to the child.  The adult must take care of their health (physical and mental) to be strong enough to take care of their aging parent.

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