Know Your Capacity for Caring for Your Elderly Parent
Since January 1, 2011, 10,000 adult have turned 65 years of age every day. This will continue for the next 20 years! By 2020, only 8 years away, 54 million Americans will be 65 and over. During the same year, there will be over 23 million Americans who are 75 and over. These statistics show the ballooning number of aging adults in the years to come. But these numbers do not reflect what this will mean for their adult children, who will be in their midlife.
I had coffee with a good friend and his wife the other day. They wanted to talk to me about some of the challenges they were experiencing with his elderly mother, who has lived with them for the past year. His mom is a delightful woman, but her needs for caregiving have been steadily increasing. Recently retired, he realized how little “alone” time he has had with his wife. He recognizes that he needs to make some changes. He wants more help from other family members and needs more time away.
Not too long ago, I met with three adult brothers who wanted to discuss how to manage the needs of their elderly mother. One of them lived very close to their mom, while the other two were out of town. The local older brother found the experience of responding to his mother’s frequent needs emotionally taxing. He wanted more support from his siblings.
A colleague has the sole caregiving responsibilities for her mother. She is divorced, and her family lives out of town. She has her own health problems and job stress too. She is feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. On top of these stresses, her adult son is having marital problems.
Another close friend, whose mother lives in assisted living at age 95, contributes a significant amount of money to her care. She did not have the funds for the care she needs. The money that he sends every month was intended to go towards saving for his retirement. The median cost of assisted living (living in an apartment, with congregate meals, laundry service and other support) is nearly $4000 per month. Additional help increases this cost.
With improved health care and increased longevity, the fastest growing population group is adults who are 85 and over. When I was growing up, it was rare to hear of someone living into their 90’s. But today, almost everyone knows someone who is in their 9th decade. My own mother is turning 90 this winter!
The aging of America poses complex challenges for all of us—economic, emotional, and practical. When my father was in his late 80’s, ill with cancer, my brother and I had to convince him to stop driving. He resisted us for months (we held our breath!) until he finally relented. My mother, during an episode of low blood pressure, passed out at the wheel and hit a tree. Fortunately no one else was injured and she suffered only a broken arm. She was lucky.
Encouraging an older adult to move out of their home into another setting, even into your own home, is fraught with challenges. Elderly adults have trouble coping with change. They are often unrealistic about their capacity to manage on their own. Consider the following:
Be realistic about what you can do. The spirit may be willing—but can you really provide the help that your parent(s) need? Most adult children may not be realistic about their own capacity to help. Think about the long term. Your aging parent is not going to get healthier and more independent they age. Consider your own needs. Plan ahead, as much as you can.
Seek out resources. Today there are many websites which can help caregivers find important information. http://www.nytimes.com/ref/health/noa_resources.html and www.AARP.org have links to useful resources. It may be helpful to meet with a senior care consultant who can help you determine what kinds of support your parent may need. At The Everett Clinic, our adult medicine department has a social worker who helps assess what support an elderly adult may require.
Develop a good working relationship with other family members. Talk with your siblings and other family members who are involved. Be clear about your expectations of others. There is no room for mind reading in this equation! Recognize that these arrangements will need to be revisited regularly.
Take care of yourself. Hopefully, your aging relatives have some funds that you can use for their care and support. Don’t be reluctant to use their resources! This will improve the quality of life for your parent. And make sure that you plan enough time and respite for yourself. Otherwise, you will run out of gas and everyone will suffer.
Share your caregiving stories!