At 76, Mom’s pretty independent. She shouldn’t be living in that house, but won’t leave without a fight. Her surgery really slowed her down; she’s back on her feet, but she can’t watch the grandkids anymore. It was a struggle to find someone else, but you did, and now they’re at the age where they don’t need much watching. Things are busy at home and at work, but pretty much on an even keel most days…
Who are you kidding?
Trying to Do It All
Millions of us are in a serious state of denial, and some are about to lose our footing with a crisis in caring for our aging parents. Like an earthquake, we have no idea when it will hit, but if our parents are still living, sooner or later our lives are going to be disrupted. Maybe it will be a series of little slips along a fault line—gradual loss of vision from diabetes, or a couple of small strokes that make it more difficult for him to keep track of his finances. Or maybe it will be “the Big One”: a major seismic shift from a serious heart attack, a broken hip or a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Whether we live down the block or halfway across the country, caregiving is a word we need to add to our vocabulary.
If you think you can handle it all—aging parents, challenging teenagers and a high-stress job—you may be in for serious aftershocks. Even if you survive an initial disaster, the longer-term consequences are likely to knock you down. Dr. Richard Schultz, principal investigator of the National Caregiver Health Study, summarized his findings in Peoria in 2002: caregivers have significantly higher rates of cancer, depression and other disease, and are twice as likely to die within five years than someone without the caregiver burden.
One in four American employees has a second job as a caregiver. Of the 44 million Americans involved in caring for an aging relative or friend, 29 million are employed and trying to juggle work and home responsibilities. In Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties, there are an estimated 31,250 households providing care to a family member or friend over the age of 60.
Effects on Business
Companies face significant losses from family caregivers. Caring for aging parents may include leaving work to take them to doctors’ appointments, or spending time at work on the phone making arrangements, checking up on them or reassuring them. Many employees come in late from giving direct care in the morning or from exhaustion from overnight care responsibilities. This is not just a corporate loss—it’s a very personal one. A MetLife survey studied 950 caregivers and revealed that over a working lifetime, these individuals lost an average $659,000 from reduced wages, foregone pensions and lost Social Security benefits. This was compared to colleagues who had no caregiving responsibilities and were free to take promotions, transfers and training.
Many employees keep quiet about their juggling of family responsibilities,so companies are unaware of the magnitude of the problem. Other firms are financially stressed and don’t see options for employees who need to take time off. There are workable solutions, but no one answer fits every family or employer. It is incumbent upon employees and their managers to know what resources are available to help with caregiving responsibilities.
Help is on the Way
Caregiving isn’t always a problem. Some families are lucky to have few health issues—or at least manageable ones. In some cases, integrating an aging parent into the family schedule goes fairly smoothly. Having more than one generation of adults in a household certainly wasn’t invented in the 21st century, and for many families, there is joy and fulfillment to be found in the process. But in some households, there may be serious health or financial problems, old conflicts among siblings or parents may resurface, and long-distance advice may flow freely, but nearby help does not. What’s an exhausted caregiver to do?
First, understand you are not alone. There are thousands of families right here in the Peoria area dealing with the same issues.
Second, get to know the resources available. There are legal, financial, informational and respite resources here in the Tri-County Area. There are caregiver support groups: some for families dealing with Alzheimer’s, others more general. If you are a long-distance caregiver or your circumstances don’t allow you to be hands-on, every part of the country has an area-wide agency on aging. Locally, the Central Illinois Agency on Aging serves Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, Marshall, Stark and Fulton counties and can be reached at (309) 674- 2071. This nationwide network offers free information and referral services for individuals over the age of 60. Most agencies do not provide services directly; they point you to local programs that offer meals, transportation, help with insurance, advocacy, legal services and respite. If your parents live out of state, the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.gov is a governmental site to help you find the closest agency on aging. Be careful of similar-sounding sites that charge fees for public information!
If a health crisis makes it difficult to know whether someone can live independently, a qualified occupational therapist can help determine what kind of equipment or home modifications will allow your loved one to be safe and function at the highest level at home. If they cannot be left alone at home during the day, Peoria is fortunate to have a certified Adult Day Services program at Senior World. A part of the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Senior World provides frail or memory-impaired adults a safe, caring daytime setting with activities, nutritious meals, exercise, and a chance to socialize and have fun.
Websites and support groups won’t cut up her food or change the bedding, but they can help connect you to others and give you practical ideas to ease the workload. Caregiving may feel like an enormous challenge, but helping parents come to the conclusion of their lives having been loved and cared for may be our highest calling. iBi