Taking Care of an Aging Parent
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With the oldest baby boomers inching closer and closer to age 70, there’s no denying the fact that a lot of people are going to need more and more help with basic daily tasks. And a lot of those people who will be supplying care will be their adult children.
According to MetLife, around 10 million people over age 50 cared for an aging parent in 2011—and the number is only expected to increase. “As the population ages, more and more people are going to have old parents,” said William S. Zirker, M.D., geriatrician at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “Many times, if they [seniors] develop frailty, dementia or functional impairment, they’re going to end up needing care.”
And care consists of a lot more than simply buying groceries and driving a parent to an occasional doctor’s appointment—more often than not, adult children are in charge of assisting their parents with basic daily tasks such as getting dressed, eating, bathing and taking care of finances.
But at the end of the day, caregiving can take a huge toll on anyone. Yet as physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting as it is, they continue on in order to help their loved ones.
One of the most challenging aspects of caregiving is the time commitment it requires. “If you’re going to take responsibility of an aging parent, you may need to take care of their finances, their healthcare, drive them to physician visits, manage their medication, or more,” said Dr. Zirker. “It all depends upon how functional they are. It may be easy or it can be really hard if you’re taking care of all of their needs.”
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, over 65 million people provide care for a chronically disabled family member or friend. And they’re spending an average of 20 hours per week doing so.
In many cases, caring for someone with a debilitating condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can be a full-time job. As a result, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to quit their jobs in order to tend to a loved one.
Between the costs of taking care of another individual and the loss of a steady income, caregiving can become a financial strain for families of limited means.
And when adult children invest so much time, money and effort into caregiving, it can take a toll on their physical and mental health as well.
“A lot of caregivers end up getting ill themselves because of caregiving,” said Dr. Zirker. “Twenty-three percent of all family caregivers caring for loved ones for five years report their health is only fair or poor.”
With all of these challenges, it’s no surprise that many caregivers burnout from the stress.
How to Better Care for an Aging Parent
Before you begin caring for a parent or loved one, Dr. Zirker urged the importance of determining what the needs are going to be through an assessment. “During a geriatric evaluation and management program (GEM), such as the one we have, we meet with elders, their wives, children, caregivers and evaluate them to see what their needs are. Then we give them an idea of how they can be met,” he said. In addition to the program available through Crozer-Keystone Health System, there are a number of other organizations that can provide assessments and assistance, such as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
Once the needs are determined, you should also review your financial resources and what you’ll be able to manage. If you can handle spending 20 hours a week caring for a parent, then you’re good to go. Otherwise, you may need to look into services, such as adult day care, to relieve some of the burden of caregiving.
“Learning what resources are available in the community to help you is so important,” said Dr. Zirker. If you cannot afford private aid to help, Dr. Zirker said you might qualify for assistance through programs such as the AAA or Medicaid.
Other programs and services that are available to seniors include home aids, County Office of Services for the Aging (COSA) services (Delaware County’s AAA service), adult day care, senior centers, Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) programs, respite care (which allows you to arrange for care if you want to go on vacation or need a break), the Alzheimer’s Association and hospices. “If someone is getting to the end of life, hospice can be a big help since they can bring in a lot of services.”
Before mom or dad moves in, however, make sure your house is safe enough for someone who is physically and/or mentally impaired to manage. Installing handrails in the bathroom and removing untied throw rugs to prevent slipping are only a couple of the ways in which you can create a safe environment for an aging parent. To guarantee you’ve covered all of the necessary bases, you might want to have an occupational therapist visit and perform a safety evaluation. “
Additionally, Dr. Zirker added it’s good to have providers who are specifically trained to manage your parent’s conditions, such as a geriatrician. By seeing one doctor instead of five or six different ones, you can ensure that your parent gets the best treatment.
Above all, it’s important to remember that you’re not in this alone. “Lots of people are taking care of aging relatives or loved ones,” said Dr. Zirker. Just make sure you’re taking advantage of the resources available to you as much as possible and don’t wear yourself out in the process.