As Baby Boomers age, they might be setting their sights on retirement, travel, taking up that old hobby or starting a new one. Instead, many of them find themselves as the primary family caregiver for elderly parents, taking on management finances and routine of medication dispensing when they expected to be stepping away from routine and responsibility. Today, the National Alliance for Caregiving estimates that 65 million people in the U.S. are unpaid family caregivers, seven in 10 caring for a person older than themselves.
Yes, becoming a caregiver has re-routed many plans. There are many reasons people accept the challenging job, sometimes out of a sense of duty or obligation to “do what’s right” by their loved ones. As the cost of services rise, some are financially obligated to take on the lion’s share of the responsibility. Some are fulfilling a promise made to a loved one and others’ recognize that their mom or dad responds better to their care, and therefore has higher sense of well-being because he or she is looked after by a family member.
Eldercare: Redefining Families
There are certainly physical and emotional impacts on a family caregiver. Caregivers often get less sleep because of being up in the night or adhering to round-the-clock medication schedules, and they are often required to lift a person who is bedridden or help him into and out of the bath. Caregiving also takes an emotional toll, ranging from anger at being the one to shoulder the burden to anxiety, isolation, exhaustion and then guilt, for having the feelings in the first place.
But this post is about benefits of caregiving, because despite the hardships, stepping up and caring for your elder can give you gifts.
Get to know your parents better. As children, the world revolves around us; as teenagers, we are the world; as young adults we explore the world; and often as adults we’ve turned into parents and we are someone else’s world. When you’re caring for your parent, you are afforded time to sit and listen and share a world.
Quality time is at hand. On one hand, you may feel isolated, not being able to run to the store whenever you need to or take a friend up on lunch. On the other hand, when you slow the pace from breakneck speed to a crawl, there are card games to be played, newspapers to discuss, recipes to share.
Story sharing preserves family history. Now is a good time to record stories from the past. If eyesight is bad, but memory is good, talking about days past may be just what your elder needs. At the same time, you get a chance to learn about your history.
Giving back love. They kissed scraped knees, reinforced why you’re grounded (again) to hopefully teach lessons, cooked meals, endured nights in a tent, hosted sleepovers and vacuumed up the resulting popcorn, celebrated when you mastered the potty. Caring for elderly parents gives you a chance to return that love and care.
Supervising the family funds. Managing your parents’ finances puts you in the loop. Whether you work with a financial planner or do it on your own, you have the opportunity to talk about finances and have a true idea of the financial picture.
Draw the family together. The world is not perfect, and siblings may fight over how mom and dad are cared for, where the money goes, and why isn’t our youngest brother helping? But often having a reason to come together opens doors for more communication between siblings who have drifted apart or simply haven’t made time to talk.
One writer recalls in her compelling story of stepping up to be the “Good Daughter,” the road is not easy, and each gift is not neatly wrapped. But if you choose to become the family caregiver, there is good balanced with hardship.
Resources for Caregivers
As the number of unpaid family caregivers grow, more recognition is being brought to the issue. November has been named National Family Caregiver month, and there are resources of all sorts, from online support groups to resources about finances, finding outside care, sharing information, advocacy and more. One example is the National Family Caregivers Association. This wealth of support and information they and others offer may lighten the family caregiver’s load.