Caring for the family
Taking care of a sick or disabled family member
can be an emotional roller coaster
By Alan S. Kopit
NEWS: Oct. 20, 2003:
Youíre a 45-year-old baby boomer with a successful career, who has been able
to manage all of your family responsibilities ó taking care of your kids and
spouse. You have even begun planning for college and retirement. Youíre
fortunate to have your parents alive and you always expected them to remain
independent, self-supporting and healthy well into their later adult years.
But then something happens and youíre stuck in the
middle ó stuck in the middle of caring for two generations ó your kids and your
A RECENT SURVEY by the AARP shows that nearly half of the baby boomers have
children at home and parents who are still living. Nearly a quarter are caring
for elders. So where does that leave you?
You are trying to do as much as you can for your parents while coping with
the stress of jobs, children and your marriage.
You have needs, but so do your kids and your
This article will help you to understand the concerns of caregivers, and how
they can manage their needs as well as the needs of their parents and kids.
WHO IS A CAREGIVER?
For some, care-giving evolves.
The care-giver takes on more and more responsibility as a parent or loved
one is unable to perform the activities of every day life.
For others, a crisis occurs when care-giving is literally thrust upon them,
generally due to some medical problem.
In either case, if your help is needed, the experts report that
you must assess the situation from different
perspectives ó from your parentsí, from your familyís, and equally important,
from your own perspective ó so that you can provide the best help possible
while maintaining a balance in your life.
Being a caregiver is a significant responsibility with legal, financial,
medical and emotional issues to consider. You will be a better caregiver if
you recognize that your needs, as well as the needs of the person youíre
caring for, must be met.
ASSESS A PARENTíS NEEDS
An assessment is a comprehensive review of a personís legal, physical,
mental, environmental, social and financial condition.
It helps establish his or her ability to remain safely independent.
It identifies risks and offers options for reducing them.
A successful assessment will result in a comprehensive plan for meeting
needs and addressing problems. It is essential that your parents participate
fully, if they are able to do so, in the discussion of options. It is
important to discuss: what your parents need to feel secure; whether your
parents are self-sufficient; and if it becomes dangerous for them to live
alone, where they would like to live. You must also learn about their
financial condition as this may dictate the type of care that can be provided.
Listing these issues is easy, but actually discussing them with a parent can
be very difficult because of your parentsí fears about losing independence and
facing a future with unknown financial consequences.
CAREGIVERS MUST DO AN ASSESSMENT OF
Taking care of yourself is very important if you are a caregiver.
Some caregivers are reluctant to acknowledge the strain associated with the
many tasks, responsibilities and long hours devoted to the care-giving role.
Many feel overwhelmed, burned out or bitter.
It is important not only to give yourself credit for the work you are doing
as a caregiver, but also to arrange for some support and an occasional break
from daily duties.
When your needs are taken care of, the person you
care for will benefit as well.
Particularly when you are getting started, take advantage of flex-time
policies your employer might have. In addition, ask your Human Resources or
Personnel Department to give you information on the ďFamily and Medical Leave
ActĒ if you work for an employer covered by the Act. This law entitles
eligible workers a maximum of 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave for family
care-giving without loss of job security or health benefits.
MANAGE YOUR WELL BEING
The following should assist the caregiver in managing his or her well being,
while also meeting the needs of parents, children and spouses:
- Assess your parentsí legal and financial needs.
- Find out whether they have an estate plan?
- Have they given you powers of attorney for healthcare and for making
financial decisions for them?
- The healthcare power will allow you to make medical decisions including
consent to medical procedures or obtaining medical records.
- The financial power will allow you to handle your parentsí financial
affairs, such as paying everyday living expenses or collecting Social
- Donít neglect your own legal needs. Be sure your estate plan is in order
and that you have made provisions for your family in areas such as retirement
and college. A common mistake is to take care of others but to put off
addressing your own needs in the process.
- Address financial issues early. Adding the burden of caring for parents,
particularly when it happens unexpectedly, can have serious financial
- Can your parents assist in paying those expenses, and have you discussed
that issue with them? Do so from the outset so that you donít become bitter by
making financial sacrifices, which could also make your family resent your
efforts in the process.
- Recognize the emotional strain. Stress can become significant. Be sure to
get away regularly, and donít give up all of your personal time or personal
activities to care for others.
- Ask for help from community and religious groups, and donít turn away the
help of family and friends if itís offered.
- Remember the family. Just because you have aging parents who need your
help doesnít mean that your teenage daughter or young son doesnít need
attention as well.
- And donít let the marriage suffer during these periods either.
- Discuss the situation openly and honestly with the family, engaging the
family in care-giving if possible.
HELP IS AVAILABLE TO THE CAREGIVER
- Networks are already in place to help people who are caregivers. You can
find what you need and where you need it, without going in circles. More than
650 area agencies on aging throughout the United States help older people and
their caregivers by planning, developing, and providing in-home and community
- A private case manager specifically for older people, called a geriatric
care manager, can help you find services. This care manager will complete a
thorough evaluation of your older relative, and will do all the work necessary
to coordinate the placement of needed services in the home or help you
consider whether a nursing home is the option.
- Care-giving is a hard job, and many communities have caregiver support
groups, where people can get emotional support, share information and feel
connected to others who are giving care. Communicating with other caregivers
can give you helpful tips and strategies, relieving that overwhelming sense of
isolation that many caregivers face daily.