Aging is inevitable and can affect many families. Adult children often find themselves becoming informal caregivers who are responsible for the physical, emotional, and mental health of their elderly parents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the need for caregivers is expected to grow as the older adult population continues to increase. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System conducted research from 2015-2017 and reported that there were seven potential family caregivers per older adult. That number is expected to decrease to only four potential family caregivers by 2030, when all baby boomers will be at least 65 years old.
Understanding the amount of effort required to care for elderly parents is difficult to grasp until it’s actually needed. Planning for the future can provide peace of mind and make transitions of care easier for families.
Plan for the Future – Today
Caring for elderly parents can be stressful and take a physical, mental, and financial toll on caregivers, but it can also strengthen relationships and offer a sense of fulfillment and need. Caregiving duties may include help with bathing and personal hygiene, food shopping and preparation, house maintenance, transportation, handling financial and legal matters, managing medications and appointments, and more.
Developing a care plan (similar to this example from the CDC) is an important step that can help alleviate stress in the future. You and your parents can work together to develop a plan, which should include information regarding:
- Health conditions
- Health care providers
- Emergency contacts
- Caregiver resources
A checklist for taking care of elderly parents may also include discussing items such as:
- Social security benefits, pensions, and any other financial assistance options
- Living wills of family members and the location of any trust documents, insurance policies, banking records, and tax returns
- Long-term insurance coverage options (policies purchased at younger ages typically have lower premiums)
- Health insurance needs
- Community service options that can help parents maintain independence for as long as possible, including home modifications for fall prevention, home delivery meals, or transportation services
- Preferred and appropriate living arrangements, whether at home, with a relative, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home
Self-Care is Not Selfish
In order to offer quality care for others, it is always important to remember to care for yourself, as well. Caring for elderly parents is a large responsibility that can be a full- or part-time job, but you also have a responsibility to care for yourself as a caregiver. Being a caregiver can likely cause high stress and burnout, which can lead to depression, anxiety, a weakened immune system, weight gain, and other health issues.
Practice self-care and follow these tips to help prevent and relieve caregiver stress. The better you feel, the better you can care for your parents.
- Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered.
- Explore available resources and support groups in your community.
- Stay organized with task lists and daily routines.
- Take care of your own health by staying physically active, practicing meditation, attending your own preventive health appointments and screenings, and getting enough sleep.
- Consider taking a leave of absence from your employment, if possible. You may have options under the Family and Medical Leave Act if you qualify.
There are various resources that can offer tools, guidance, and tips for caring for elderly parents. Start here to find help online or in your local community:
- Eldercare Locator, a public service of the Administration on Aging, an agency of the U.S. Administration for Community Living