Though hardly a surprise to caretakers, a recent story in The Wall Street Journal reports that more baby boomers are taking care of elderly parents. Kelly Greene reports that since 1994 the number of adults in caregiving roles has tripled. Boomers, who are most often in this position, are literally paying the price.
Greene reports, “The financial toll on care providers who are 50 or older averages $303,880 per person in lost wages, pensions and Social Security benefits over their lifetime, due to leaving the work force early to care for a parent, according to the study”
The emotional costs of caregiving are also high, with caretakers suffering more chronic health problems and substance abuse. Indeed, research in this area has been growing and many of us are reminded that a long life can be a pyrrhic victory.
Caring for an elderly parent is one of the hardest challenges the boomer generation faces. Yet, it seems like there are no easy answers for how to cope.
One of the things I talk about with caregivers is how to set limits with aging or ill parents–but it is hard to develop boundaries if a caregiver has no support and has limited financial resources. Perhaps this is why substance use can be compelling for some who feel that they have no control over how to manage life, parents, career and fears of financial catastrophe.
Eventually, the country will have to address many of these problems: health care, lack of facilities and resources for the elderly and how to manage the increasing number of elders who remain in their homes but need ongoing help.
In the meantime, caregivers can focus on what they can control. Getting support for you, the caregiver, is a key area of control as I have discussed here on PsychCentral. There are other options as well:
-Did you know that Medicare usually provides mental health coverage for your aging parent? Consider asking a professional to see mom or dad. Some clinicians and organizations provide home visits or visits to long-term care facilities if your parent is not mobile. The elderly with untreated depression or anxiety have a harder time functioning and being as independent as possible. Psychotherapy for the elderly can improve quality of life. Many caretakers have reported to me that once a parent receives psychotherapy he or she often seems more independent.
-Find support on the Internet. Though the Internet can create anxiety when trying to diagnose your own medical illness (!), there is a wealth of resources for caretakers. Check out: Access2Wellness as well as Netofcare.Org for comprehensive sources on support for elders, caregivers and people who want resources on specific illness related concerns. There is also information on issues of diversity in caregiving.
-Plan for the future. If you are not yet in a caretaking role, but think you could be, think about money. Talk with your parents about what they can afford. Be realistic about the future. Do your parents expect you to provide care? If not, how will they plan to take care of themselves? Realistic discussions now often prevent having to be put in a position later on in which you are making all of the decisions while managing costs.
-Finally, don’t blame yourself. None of us knew when we were born that life was going to be this long and that many of us would have to worry about our parents in this way. You can have mixed feelings about having to care for a parent. You also get to decide how actively you want to be involved. There is no right or wrong answer about what to do–what matters most is that you are conscious about what you choose.
We all get tied up in our emotions when we worry about our parents. It is hard to know how to balance taking care of a parent and taking care of yourself. Though there is no right answer, remember that if you do not take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of your parent(s). Being able to manage your own emotions makes it easier to take care of the ones you love.