Aging Parents: How Dangerous is Caregiving to One’s Health?

11% of family caregivers report that caregiving has caused their physical health to deteriorate. [The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP–2009), Caregiving in the U.S. National Alliance for Caregiving. Washington, DC.] – Updated: November 2012

Family caregivers who are in good health are in a better position to help parents age well. No surprise here.  Reading the statistics about family caregivers’ health several years ago was sobering. The Family Caregiver Alliance’s  2012 “Selective Care Statistics Fact Sheet,” reports: “of those caring for someone aged 65+, the average age is 63 years with one third of these caregivers in fair to poor health.” The November 2012 report’s fact sheet is easy-to-read but long. However, it’s well-organized by topics–eg. gender, age, impact on working female caregivers, gender and care tasks–making selective reading easy. Example:

Impact of Caregiving on Caregiver’s Physical Health

While researchers have long known that caregiving can have deleterious mental health effects for caregivers, research shows that caregiving can have serious physical health consequences as well, 17% of caregivers feel their health in general has gotten worse as a result of their caregiving responsibilities. [AARP Public Policy Institute Valuing the Invaluable: 2008 Update. The Economic Value of Family Caregiving] – Updated: November 2012

Research shows an estimated 17-35% of family caregivers view their health as fair to poor. (Valuing the Invaluable: 2011 Update, The Economic Value of Family Caregiving. AARP Public Policy Institute.)  Updated: November 2012

Those who are more likely to rate physical strain of caregiving “high” are female (17% vs. 10% males) and older (21% are 65+ vs. 11% at 18-49). They have lower incomes (19% vs. 11% of those with an annual income of $50,000+), a higher level of burden (31% vs. 9%, of those with a moderate level of burden and 5% of those with a low level), and are living with their care recipient (29% vs. 11% who don’t live together). (National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP–2009, Caregiving in the U.S., A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Age 50 or Older, Bethesda, MD: National Alliance for Caregiving, Washington, D.C.) Updated: November 2012

Read Selective Care Statistics Fact Sheet

Who takes care of the caregiver? Or must we find ways to take care of ourselves?

Related Posts:

Caregivers for Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Caring for the Caregivers,is the title of Jane Brody’s column in the Personal Health section of today’s NY Times, Science Times section. (Note: the title changes a bit in the on-line version.) For those who didn’t read the column click link above. It continues the subject of my two previous posts on caregiving. The column”s focus:

1. a husband dealing with his wife’s Alzheimer’s
2. dealing with dementia patients’ physical and verbal abuse (a professor‘s research at Johns Hopkins’s School of Nursing offers successful strategies, without using drugs
3. Dr. Judith L. London’s book, Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers: The Unsung Heroes” published in November 2013. “Caregivers are often casualties, the hidden victims of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. London.

Related: Six books That Belong in Every Alzheimer’s Caregiver’s Library 

Note: For the time being, I plan to post on Saturdays only. That said,  from time to time, when possible, there will be a mini-post mid-week.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Sooo Much to Do–Too Little Time-Holiday Organization

Wrapping Christmas Gifts

Juggling everything on a normal day, with over-busy, over-programmed schedules, is hard enough at this time of year–whether we’re children of aging parents, caregivers or Sandwich Generation. Do we feel like we have ADD?

DISORGANIZATION, FRAZZLED NERVES–worsened by the unexpected glitch. And can’t we count on that! There’s an old saying “I’m dancing as fast as I can.” Taking that a step further: when we try to dance faster than we can, don’t we wear out or lose our balance? So how do we stay balanced?

9 Strategies that work 

Re: Making lists–works for some (once on paper, anxiety ends); not for me if the list is long.  A long list of to-do’s overwhelms: a stomach can go into knots just looking at it. I do have a mental list, but don’t write it down at the beginning. I know if I look at it I’ll become immobilized for a time…probably want to cry…which may help some, but again not me. (My eyes get red and puffy and I’m out of action until I look normal again.) 
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1. Get rid of visible messes at home. Their sight compounds the stress and confusion. Thoughts get scattered, surrounded by and knowing there are: unmade beds, messy kitchen, stuff strewn around. (Forget children’s rooms). And with too much to do, it’s easy to leave beds unmade, add to an already-begun pile of stuff to put away later etc., etc.

2. Get help doing the above. Don’t waste your time.  “I need your help” is the important phrase that psychologically pulls people into your web and gets results. Enlist children, any able-bodied person (husband/wife/other) in the house to help.  A noted researcher in the 1970’s when divorce was escalating, advised single-parent-frazzled mothers: “Even an 8-year-old can vacuum.”

3. Think about the time of day you are more efficient and energetic. I know the middle of the day isn’t best for me. I have tremendous energy in the morning and then a short burst later at night. At night, however, I don’t have patience for detail things, so at this time of year the “no-brainer” kinds of things–like wrapping presents–are perfect.

4. Everything needn’t be done this minute. Accomplish a few of the easy-to-do things that are mixed with all the other must-do’s that cause anxiety. Find the easiest time-sensitive one, and accomplish it. Reward: a psychological pick-up.

5. Try to identify a few more easy ones; get at least one of those out-of-the-way, you’ll feel better. Then attack and accomplish one of the more difficult or time-consuming anxiety-producers. Reward yourself. Take a break. Eat chocolate, take a short nap, watch TV, go for a walk–you get the idea.

6. NOW MAKE THE LIST, prioritizing what remains. Fit “remains” into time available in the days that are left, using the above model.

7. Next think about what can reasonably be done, how others can help, thus saving  you time and/or stress. We can get help with almost anything these days if we ask or can pay for it. Yet many of us don’t ask when we’re overwhelmed. We often think it takes too much time to have to explain. But if we’re asking a capable friend or family member, why do we hesitate? (Controllers: take note. This is hard.)

8. If necessary, delete the least important from the list…the one(s) where the world won’t come to an end if not taken care of now. Put it/them off or cancel.

9. Knowing the duration of the stress helps. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel provides relief.

When we’re less stressed those around us no doubt notice; indeed it’s probably a gift–as we do our best to help parents, grandparents and older friends age well.
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Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents–Financial Stuff (often laborious for me–and possibly you) Thoroughly and Easily Explained

Understanding Medicare and Medicare Advantage Plans Can Help Parents Age Well

Because open enrollment ends Dec. 7, I’m adding this post today

I was perusing the November 22 online Huff Post 50 topics, when “25 Things You Absolutely Positively Must Do Before You Die” captured my attention. But that was only momentary. Since I didn’t plan to die right away, another article won out: “7 Tips to Help You Pick The Best Medicare Advantage Plan,”.

This informative, clearly explained article, written by journalist, Bob Rosenblatt, is also on his blog, Help With Aging, where he writes: “I developed the Los Angeles Times’ first beat on aging, and wrote a column for the Times’ health section on these issues…I am now a free-lance writer and a Senior Fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), a bi-partisan think tank, where I have been a writer and conducted training sessions for reporters covering Social Security and Medicare….” The subheading of his blog is “Expert reporting on the Finances of Aging.” In my opinion, it certainly is.

As I’ve aged, I realize I have less patience with those lengthly, important, fact-filled articles that I would gobble up (pun not intended) in graduate school. That said, healthcare is important, fills the news these days, so I resolved to read what I thought would be something long and tedious, but isn’t. While relatively long, it doesn’t seem so. It’s an easy read–instructive for those of us with aging parents–pointing out what to be aware of with Medicare Advantage Program offerings and how and where they differ from Medicare’s offerings. Worthwhile reading whether considering the Advantage programs or not.

I will be adding Help With Aging to my “Blogs and Sites I Like” tab (above). Also of interest:“Tax Breaks For Caregivers: Siblings Can Share Deductions” and “Your Job is Safe When You Take Time Off For Caregiving” Check them out.

As adult children of aging parents, most of us are well aware that helping parents age well also involves helping ourselves–so we can help them. Think airplane advice: “put the mask over your nose and mouth first, then assist others.” The “7 Tips” provide useful information for both generations.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Help Aging Parents: When a Sibling Often Feels Like an Only Child

The Caregiving Sibling and Uninvolved/Less Involved Brothers and Sisters
Edited and continued from yesterday  

Years ago we thought one of our bachelor cousins was the only only child we knew–who had a sister. That was a joke of course. His sister is wonderful but he, with a keen sense of humor, made fun of his self-centered, independent streak and gave himself the title.

Those were our younger days. Thoughts of caregiving were far from our minds. In the end his sister was a superb caregiver and possibly considered herself an only child with a brother (we never discussed it). Fortunately her husband, a physician, was 100% supportive and involved.

I’ve mentioned before–several times–something a family counseling agency’s head of Services for the Elderly told me: The child who will become caregiver for her/his aging parents can be identified early on–when very young. “The other children aren’t so involved,” she said.

Thinking back, I remembered when my husband and I moved to NY something inside made me aware I would “be there” for my parents when the time came; but I think I’d always known that.

I’ve checked this out unofficially over the  years. More often than not, caregiving children confirm this “something inside”…knowing that when “push came to shove” they’d do whatever was necessary to help their parents age well. Does this negate commonly-held beliefs that children assume the caregiver role for other reasons?  (This sibling needs a life; guilt; it’s payback time–parents did for them; they like helping others etc. etc.) But then that’s a good subject for another post.

Francine Russo’s excellent book, They’re Your Parents Too, addresses the subject of non-involved siblings among other issues. My concern is how to get Fran’s book into the hands of these brothers and sisters. The caregiving sibling has a very full plate. Thoughts of diplomatically suggesting ways her/his brothers or sisters could provide help and/or relief may be overwhelming or may conjure up concerns about negative reactions. Status quo feels preferable.

I recently had dinner with an old friend. His wife, Mary, is one of five children. She has a good heart, really enjoys doing for others, and has a lucky husband in that regard (breakfast in bed anyone?). He’s also a husband who is fully involved with Mary’s caregiving activities.

Yet he doesn’t understand why Mary’s siblings (three sisters and one brother) don’t shoulder more of their dad’s caregiving responsibilities.  They do help in ways that are convenient for them. But they leave most of the responsibility to Mary. It’s a burden but she–and he– handle it.

Interestingly (to me) a discussion ensued about how Mary would like her close-living siblings to pitch in sometimes–on weekends–to invite their dad to dinner once in a while or take him out for a ride.  It’s not difficult to make dinner for 1 extra person. Mary does it every weekend. And a short ride for a change of scenery isn’t asking much. Since none of the siblings work outside the home how hard can it be?

Some gentle questioning led to Mary’s explaining that her sisters usually take their dad to his doctor appointments. And they do offer to do things for him when the mood strikes them…not often enough. For example, one sister asked if Mary would like her to take their Dad to a meeting of his men’s club. “I told her it was OK, I’d do it,” Mary said, explaining that she was “so used to doing it, it really didn’t make any difference.”

And that’s where the red flag goes up: Mary feels overburdened, but doesn’t let go when she’s offered help. Her reasoning: she’s used to doing it. My take: she should say something like “thank you, I’d really appreciate that” changing the unstated rules of the game (so to speak). By acknowledging appreciation, perhaps her sister will “get it”– realizing possibly for the first time–that Mary can use some help.

If we believe what the head of the Services for the Elderly said above: “the other children aren’t so involved,” we realize this goes way back. In addition, siblings aren’t mind-readers. Why shouldn’t they assume the caregiving sibling–if not complaining– is happy with the status quo? Regardless, when we change the way we play the game, the person we’re playing with makes changes too. While we think “sports” isn’t it also true in the game of life?

When caregivers can have some additional help, doesn’t it raise the spirit? doesn’t this enhance helping our parents age well? It needn’t take a village; one helpful sibling can make a big difference.

Related: 2015 an excellent article: Solving Sibling Squabbles Over a Parent’s Care