By Mark Terry
When the entire baby boomer generation has reached retirement age in 2030, an astonishing number of US families will have faced the challenge of providing care to an aging loved one.
Even today, caregivers are present in one of every five US households and studies show that most often it is a family member who provides care. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 83% of those providing care to seniors are unpaid individuals such as family members, friends, and neighbors.
Right at Home of Colorado Springs, the leading local provider of in-home companion and personal care to seniors and others, understands the challenges family members face when providing care to an aging loved one. It is with these compassionate, selfless relatives in mind that Right at Home offers this useful guide to improving the quality of life for family caregivers.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, the physical and emotional demands placed on family members providing care for loved ones with diseases such as Alzheimer’s puts the caregivers at greater risk for health problems. The organization warns that family caregivers are more at risk for infectious diseases, such as colds and flu, and chronic diseases, such as heart problems, diabetes and cancer. In addition, depression is twice as common among family caregivers compared to non-caregivers.
The many costs of caregiving
Thomas Day, director of the National Care Planning Council, an organization specializing in the area of long term care planning, suggests that there is a common stress-building pattern that caregivers endure. The following is typical among family caregivers. For the first 18 months, the caregiver is confident, has everything under control and is coping well. Other friends and family are lending support. But by or during the 20th to 36th month, the caregiver may be taking medication to foster sleep and help control mood swings. Outside help dwindles, and with the exception of trips to the store or doctor, the caregiver has severed most social contacts. The caregiver feels alone and helpless.
Months 38 to 50 providing care may find the caregiver’s own physical health beginning to deteriorate. A constant lack of focus and fatigue may cloud judgment and the caregiver is often unable to make rational decisions or ask for help. It is often at this stage that family or friends intercede and find other solutions for care. This may include respite care, hiring in-home care on a full-time basis or placing the elder family member in a care facility. Without intervention, the caregiver may become a candidate for long-term care as well.
Getting outside help to cope with stress
Given that most family members begin providing care to their loved ones without training or counseling, they often are not aware of the overwhelming stress associated with it. Thus, it is important to receive counseling and to develop a plan of action prior to making a caregiving commitment.
The Older Americans Act passed in 1965 provides resources to the states in support of caregivers. All states offer programs at minimal to no cost, which include: counseling, caregiver training, respite care, adult day care, meals, and more.
Mark Terry is the president/owner of Right at Home. He has offices in Colorado Springs and the Denver Metro areas. Right at Home is Colorado Springs’s largest non-medical home care agency specializing in care for seniors and adults with disabilities. For more information about home care or any other senior services, call 719-634-4999.