America has an aging population, which means many more of us can expect to care for an elderly family member at some point. In the decade between 2006 and 2016, the number of Americans aged 65 and over increased from 37 million to 49 million. In 1950, around 8 percent of the U.S. population was older than 65; in 2019, it was 16.5 percent, and by 2040 over a fifth of Americans will fall into the elderly category.
Caring for an elderly family member is among the most rewarding life tasks, but it is also one of the most challenging. It may be intensely disruptive to your lifestyle and your relationship with the person you care for. Depending on the family member’s health, caring may consume many hours a week and test your stamina to its limits.
Preparation is key, so we’d like to take a look at six of the biggest concerns expressed by people caring for a family member. We hope that sharing these concerns will help you to understand and prepare for the responsibilities of caring for an elderly family member.
Caring for an older adult often requires significant changes to the caregiver’s schedule, routine activities, and lifestyle. If you care for a healthy and independent elderly person these changes might be minimal. But caring for someone with mobility, mental health, and other conditions can consume several hours per day.
People who are new to caring often try to maintain the same work and social routine, squeezing in caregiving alongside other activities. For some, that’s a viable plan. For many, it leads to stress and eventual burnout as competing demands add up to an impossible burden.
If you take on caring responsibilities, be prepared to make changes to your lifestyle. Helpful strategies include:
- Prioritizing activities and reducing your involvement in those that are less important to you.
- Asking other family members to take on some of the burdens.
- Talking to your employer about flexible working hours and whether they can accommodate your need to prioritize caregiving.
- Explaining to friends and family that you may not have as much free time as you once did.
Emotional and Physical Fitness
Caregiving can be physically demanding. If you are elderly—the average age of caregivers is 63—you may struggle to provide the physical support your family member needs. It is worth comparing your physical capabilities to the needs of the person you care for. A fit 80-year-old may need little help, but someone who has suffered a stroke or who has dementia may need help with everything from sitting up in bed to going to the toilet and more.
Caregivers do not have to be Olympic athletes at the peak of physical fitness, but they should understand their physical limitations and when it’s time to ask for help. Additionally, they should be aware of the assistance that is available to reduce the physical burden, including both paid caregivers and equipment such as home hospital beds.
The Financial Implications of ElderCare
It feels unkind to think about caregiving’s financial implications, but you cannot offer adequate care if you run out of money. There are various direct and indirect costs associated with caregiving:
- You will spend more on food, heating, and power if your elderly relative lives with you.
- You may also face expenses for medicine and medical equipment.
- You may have to reduce your working hours, reducing your income. If you care for a very ill or severely disabled person, you may have to give up work altogether.
If you are struggling financially, you may be able to advantage of schemes such as the Medicaid Self-Directed Care program and Long-Term Care Insurance to offset the costs of looking after an elderly relative.
Negotiating Your Role With An Elderly Relative
It is difficult to adapt to the caregiving role, but it is just as challenging to be the recipient of care. Many elderly people resist the need for care and fight to maintain their independence. In some cases, the refusal to accept help causes stress for the caregiver and puts the unwilling care recipient at risk.
There is no easy solution, but it helps to empathize with your elderly relative. How would you feel in their position? It’s vital to listen to their concerns and be patient, even in the face of significant resistance. Take the time to discuss which help they are prepared to accept: do they need help to get up in the morning or can they cope? Can they use the toilet or bathe without assistance? Is there medical or support equipment available that could help them maintain independence and dignity?
Looking After Yourself
Caregivers often neglect their own care. They don’t get enough sleep or set aside time to relax. They ignore their physical and mental healthcare issues. In fact, many caregivers feel selfish if they take time for self-care. But how can someone look after an elderly relative if they don’t look after themselves?
The unfortunate consequence of poor self-care is increased stress and illness, often leading to burnout. When an elderly relative relies on you, caregiver burnout is catastrophic for both.
It is vital to maintain your own physical and mental health. We’ve written about self-care for caregivers extensively, but at a minimum caregivers should:
- Ensure that they get enough sleep. The average adult needs seven hours of sleep each night.
- Ask for help. If you feel stressed or unable to cope, ask family members for help or consider employing a professional caregiver or nurse to lighten the load.
- Don’t hesitate to visit a medical professional. Seek medical advice if you feel stressed, unable to cope, or ill.
We’ve looked at five concerns that face people who care for elderly relatives. Reading these concerns might make you feel scared or anxious, and that’s understandable—caring for someone is a big responsibility. However, once you understand what to expect, you are better equipped to overcome the challenges and do the best possible job of caring for your loved one.