As baby boomers age, more of them are providing care for their elderly loved ones. This can range anywhere from simply checking in on a loved one to make sure they are OK, to planning meals and managing their medications, to assisting them with daily activities, such as bathing and dressing.
The people who provide this care do so out of love, respect, and a sense of duty. But everyone, care providers and care recipients alike, underestimates the mental stress and physical toll that providing this care can take on the caregiver. It is important that the caregiver be able to recognize the signs of caregiver stress before it becomes problematic. Strategies should be developed to combat this stress. A burnt-out caregiver helps no one.
An AARP study revealed a "caregiver's wish list." Three things that caregivers wish they had are: 1. Tax relief in the form of a tax credit for providing care for a loved one; 2. Payment for providing care, such as a minimum wage; 3. Respite in the form of time off or relief by having someone coordinate transportation and medical appointments.
If you are in a caregiving relationship, you need to recognize the importance of these items. Many assisted living facilities allow a respite stay, giving the caregiver a short break. The addition of a small amount of in-home care for your loved one can alleviate some of the burden. Often aging family members can pay their caregivers a small wage for the care they provide, as long as the pay is pursuant to a legal agreement.
If you are considering starting a caregiving arrangement, contact an elder law attorney who will help you come up with a plan to combat these concerns before the caregiving starts. Be aware of available resources, such as support groups and web resources including www.caregiverstress.com . The Alzheimer's Association provides fantastic resources for those caring for those with Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Try to develop a support system for the caregiver. See if family members are willing to work together to divide the responsibilities as much as possible. If there are no other individuals who are willing to help, then be prepared to request assistance through a home health care agency. You should also inform your employer that you are a caregiver. Letting your employer know in advance that you may need to take time off to take care of family responsibilities will allow them to have the chance to work with you to accommodate your schedule rather than leaving your employer in a bad position when caregiving causes problems for you at work.
Finally, as a caregiver, it is important to realize that, while many caregivers want to keep their loved ones from entering a nursing home facility, that is not always possible. Eighty percent of all individuals need facility level care at some point in their lives. Nursing homes provides 24 hour a day trained medical staffing. Few caregivers have the medical training and level of knowledge of an assisted living or nursing facility. Even if caregivers have that training and level of knowledge, it is impossible for them to be rested and fresh if they are "on the job" 24 hours a day. The bottom line is that at some point it will likely be necessary for most individuals to need nursing home care. Caregivers should not prevent that from happening because they made a promise that they would never put their loved ones in a facility.
Proper planning ahead of time, with an elder law attorney who specializes in this area of law, will provide peace of mind for you so that you can concentrate on caring for your loved one. The goal is always to provide care for your loved one and to protect yourself from burnout and potential missteps that could harm your loved one and you in the future.
Attorney Daniel O. Tully is a partner in the law firm of Kilbourne & Tully, P.C., members of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys Inc., with offices at 120 Laurel St., Bristol https://ktelderlaw.com