We need a confident approach to caregiving. Why? Many of us are likely to become caregivers. Already, 1 in 3 people in the U.S. is caring for someone over the age of 18 years. This proportion is likely to increase over the next 20 years, as the number of people being cared for will nearly double, from 41 mm in 2010 to 72 mm in 2030.
Who’s likely to become a caregiver? Omaha In-Home Care states that the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman and in addition to holding a full-time job and having teenagers at home, she’ll likely be caring for a parent. Many other family caregivers are in their mid 60’s and caring for a spouse.
If you get the call to become a caregiver or manage someone’s care, prepare yourself. Read, or skim as fast as you can, Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages in Caregiving. Also, take a look at our book, The Handbook of Live-In Care, for helpful, practical information. Recognize caregiving will be a complex and difficult job. Elder care is different than care for other age groups, because the patient may have a combination of physical and mental conditions at the same time, such as dementia and congestive heart failure. When dementia, in any one of its many forms, is present, it may be accompanied by difficult behaviors, such as aggression and communication issues.
Structure and plan the caregiving as far as possible. Work with your loved one to negotiate how the care arrangement will work, learn about the condition, find a doctor you can trust, and consider if you want care to be at home or in some other environment. Understand there will be changes in your life and in your loved one’s which are due to the new roles you both have. You’ll be a caregiver first, and their child second. Your loved one may be accepting very personal services from you and may be quite uncomfortable with this change in your relationship.
Over time, your loved one’s health condition will change. If suffering from something like cancer, there can be periods of crisis, treatment and recovery. If the disease is heart disease, this could be a long slow decline. You will likely have changing feelings about your caregiving role and the health of your loved one. Intense feelings are normal, and should be managed to keep you healthy.
The costs of caregiving can add up. The time of caregiving can be 5-10 years, with 5 years about average for people who do not have dementia. About 64% of caregivers work. They often cut back at work and decline promotions affecting their earning and saving ability. Caregivers often get sick themselves from the strain of caregiving; 23% say their health is poor. Caregiver burnout, defined as mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, can be the result of ignoring self-care needs combined with unbearable strain.
If you are suffering from burnout, (see my blog post: Caregiver Burnout And The Sandwich Generation), get help. Ask family and friends for help, or hire a home care company. See a doctor for yourself, too, as soon as possible. Depression is very common among family caregivers, with 40-70% of caregivers suffering from it. Use caregiver supports, such as
- Support groups
- Area Offices on Aging (Aging Partners in Lincoln, ENOA in Omaha)
- Assistive technology (such as alert bracelets and bed alarms)
- Seek training for caregiving
- Use your employer’s Employee Assistance Programs which might cover stress management
- Take breaks from caregiving, both short and long.
- Seek intrinsic rewards at work or church, since your loved one may not be able to express appreciation for your caregiving.
Gail Sheehy said it is most important to understand “we’re not meant to do this alone.” Collaborate for the best care approach with your loved one, the team of professionals, (doctors, nurses, caregivers), family, and friends. Protect for your life during caregiving and prepare for it after your caregiving role ends.