The elderly are increasingly relying on their families to provide care. Unfortunately, as the growth of the elderly population outpaces the younger generation, there will be fewer available caregivers. This will cause significant stress on caregivers as they try to manage caring for a loved one (often on their own) while also providing and caring for their own family. This generation of caregivers who are caring for an elderly parent and their own children have become known as the “sandwich generation.” The typical family caregiver is a mid to late forties woman who works full-time and spends about twenty hours per week providing unpaid care for about five years to her mother (while incurring over $8000 each year in out of pocket expenses). Here are some strategies for families to better manage this enormously difficult time:
1. Take a break. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can handle this on your own without it affecting your health or your family. Respite or adult day care programs can provide a much needed breather. Also, other family members should be expected help – preferably in the home of their parent(s) or in their own home. Finally, it may be necessary to hire a caregiver on a limited basis.
2. Seek professional help. A gerontologist is often necessary to assess your loved one’s needs and provide advice regarding the appropriate level of assistance. Also, an elder law attorney should be consulted regarding necessary legal documents such as a durable power of attorney and a patient advocate, or if necessary, a conservator and guardian.
3. Join a support group. A support group can be a wonderful resource and stress reliever for caregivers. Monthly meetings with other caregivers who are facing many of the same struggles can be extremely helpful especially for those caregivers who have just begun caring for a loved one.
4. Figure out the finances. The sooner you understand your loved one’s financial situation the better. As your loved one’s needs increase (and they will increase), it is important to know whether an assisted living facility or hiring caregivers are viable options. Also, considering other options such as Medicaid or Veterans benefits (if your loved one is a wartime veteran or the spouse of a veteran) is very important. Unfortunately, most people fail to plan ahead and are ill-prepared to help their loved one when they can no longer care for them.
Caring for a loved one is extraordinarily difficult even under the best of circumstances. Don’t assume it will somehow be any different for you – see an experienced elder law attorney today.