Family members as caregivers

Published 3:51 pm Monday, January 24, 2022

 

For many young couples, the exchange of marriage vows that included the words “…in sickness and in health…” were at the time, just that – words. Fast forward thirty to fifty years or more and suddenly those words have an impact far greater than ever expected. According to the American Academy of Geriatric Psychiatrists, one out of every four American families cares for someone over the age of 50. That number is expected to skyrocket as the Census Bureau projects that in 2030, just eight short years from now, when more than 71-million Americans will be over 65 years of age.

The job of being a caregiver of a spouse or loved one can become a fulltime, unpaid job that unrelentingly consumes every minute of every day. It can have grave consequences on both the relationship and the care provider’s health. If you or someone in your family cares for a loved one with a chronic medical illness or dementia and has felt depression, anger or guilt, and if their health has deteriorated since taking on the responsibility of caregiving, s/he may be suffering from caregiver stress, also known as Caregiver Syndrome.

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Caregiver Syndrome has a high risk of mortality for elderly care providers. As far back as December 1999 the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that “…elderly caregivers are at a 63 percent higher risk of mortality than non-caregivers in the same age group.” That statistic was updated on September 15, 2014, in a report from the estate planning and probate law firm of Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras P.C. in Troy, MI, entitled “70% of All Caregivers Over the Age of 70 Die First.” That number is possibly even higher today.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help minimize the challenges that come with caring for aging loved ones. Here are 10 things that can help you in your role as a family caregiver.

1. Take care of yourself. Take time for yourself to reduce the chances of burning out. Get exercise, do some things that you enjoy, stay in touch with friends and do your best to get enough sleep.

2. Develop stress-management techniques. Some things are as easy as going for a walk or learning and doing meditation techniques for as little as 20 minutes a day. These may help keep your stress level low.

3. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about your loved one’s condition and current best practices for basic caregiving. If you use a computer, you can search and find massive amounts of research about creative caregiving ideas as well as ways to protect your physical and mental health.

4. Create a schedule & stay organized. It’s important to have a schedule for care times, personal time, and loved one’s appointments. This can include dates and times when other family members are willing to help. Also maintain online and physical folders containing all important information related to your loved one’s care including doctor’s phone numbers, lists of current and past medications, medical documents, and test results.

5. Make sure all legal documents are up to date. As I discussed in previous articles, when your loved one is in a clear mental state, update all legal documents for Power of Attorney, Wills, Living Will, investment and insurance documents. Be sure that named beneficiaries reflect your loved one’s current wishes.

6. Don’t let problems pile up. Handle challenges as they come up rather than procrastinating and keep things manageable. Communicate with your loved one if you feel the relationship is becoming strained or tense.

7. Be realistic about your capabilities. Assess your own life situation. If you’re working a demanding, full-time job and have a young family at home, taking on caregiving of a family member can easily require 20 or more hours per week and may not be a realistic solution.

8. Connect with support groups and other caregivers in your community. People who are going through similar experiences can provide information and help you feel connected in your new role.

9. Seek professional help before you become overwhelmed. Over time, you may find that caring for your loved one is too much to manage on your own. As soon as you accept that reality, it’s time to ask for help from family members, close friends and geriatric professionals who may be able to offer you some assistance.

10. Look into the support services that are available in your community. Do as much research as you can to learn if there are services such as in-home care, meal delivery, and medical assistance providers available in your community including Aid and Attendance for military veterans through the VA. Caring for yourself first is the key, because without you, your loved one may not have any assistance.

 

Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging. You may contact him by phone at( 828) 696-9799 or by email at: drron561@gmail.com.