Caring for a Senior Adult – a Personal Story Shared by Millions

We will all face it at some point, if we don’t already — caregiving.

A family member, such as a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, in-law, or even a neighbor will need your help.

As the population ages, it’s likely we will become caregivers for an older adult who needs us, whether or not we are ready.

Illness, injury, dementia, surgery or other unforeseen occurrence may signal the need for us to take over caring for another person.

Make no mistake, caregiving is very rewarding but it can be a lot of responsibility.

Some caregivers may be nearby, far away, or even live with their senior loved one.

Even though family caregivers may provide care that is daily, occasional, or of either short or long duration, we share common concerns.

Growing Caregiver Numbers

The number of family caregivers of seniors is growing, as one might imagine, along with the increase in the senior population.

There have been many studies investigating not only prevalence statistics but also what services caregivers are providing to their senior family members.

Here are statistics from The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute in their Caregiving in the US Report 2015:

  • 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months
  • 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the prior 12 months
  • shockingly, 1.4 million children ages 8 to 18 provide care for an adult relative
  • a majority of caregivers are female (60%), but that still means there are a lot of males providing care
  • A majority of caregivers provide care for a relative (85%), with 49% caring for a parent or parent-in-law
  • One in 10 provides care for a spouse
  • Nearly 1 in 10 caregivers is 75 years of age or older
  • Family caregivers have been in their role for 4 years, with a quarter having provided care for 5 years or more
  • Half of those needing care live in their own homes
  • A quarter of those needing care have a memory problem
  • More than half of seniors receiving care have been hospitalized in the past 12 months
  • On average, caregivers spend 24.4 hours a week providing care to their senior loved one; nearly one-quarter provide 41 or more hours of care a week
  • Only 32% of caregivers report their senior loved one gets paid help from aides, housekeepers, or other people paid to help them
  • Sadly, 22% of caregivers felt their health had gotten worse as a result of caregiving
  • Just under half of caregivers report their senior has made plans for his or her future care

These numbers are pretty staggering when one considers that they are only increasing.

A new study just released from found that 40% of caregivers spent on average $5,000 a year of their own money for items such as food, clothes, medical care and other costs for their senior loved ones.

Three fourths report their caregiving duties put a strain on their employment, including required work time adjustments and arriving late.

The Caregiver Action Network reports that the value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year.

Caregiving Duties

Every family’s situation will be unique, but caregivers of older adults are doing many of the same tasks.

The problem is not the task itself but the time it takes to complete, not one task but the multitude of tasks with which we are faced each day.

As our family members get older, they often need our help in little ways and more and more in big ways.

Our elders need help getting their medications together for the week, so they are taken as prescribed, doing the housework, paying the bills, preparing meals and going to doctor visits until eventually more care is required.

Sometimes the transition from needing a little help to being dependent on us comes slowly and other times it will come all too quickly.

Here are just a few things you may be doing now or will do in the future:

  • housework
  • grocery shopping
  • cooking
  • transportation
  • medical and other appointment management
  • insurance and document coordination
  • personal care: dressing, toileting, bathing, feeding
  • nursing duties like catheter care, IVs, ostomy care, or wound care
  • companionship
  • home maintenance
  • medication management
  • financial management
  • supervision
  • safety interventions
  • documenting end of life wishes
  • advocating
  • helping transfer from bed to chair to toilet to car and back again

Sometimes we can help and sometimes we need to find others to help us or even find placement to keep our family members safe.

Tips for Caring for Yourself

One of the most important things family caregivers need to remember is to care for yourself. You will be unable to help anyone if you don’t care for yourself!

It is not selfish to set aside time to care for your own needs.

The Caregiver Action Network offers these 10 tips for family caregivers to care for yourself:

  1. Seek support from other caregivers. You are not alone!
  2. Take care of your own health so that you can be strong enough to take care of your loved one.
  3. Accept offers of help and suggest specific things people can do to help you.
  4. Learn how to communicate effectively with doctors.
  5. Caregiving is hard work so take respite breaks often.
  6. Watch out for signs of depression and don’t delay getting professional help when you need it.
  7. Be open to new technologies that can help you care for your loved one.
  8. Organize medical information so it’s up to date and easy to find.
  9. Make sure legal documents are in order.
  10. Give yourself credit for doing the best you can in one of the toughest jobs there is!

Shared Caregiving Mission

Many family caregivers continue to love their seniors and remember how they used to be before their abilities declined — their joy of living and lifelong service to others. Your main goal is their comfort and safety.

If you are not now going through it right now, you very likely will eventually.

Words of wisdom to you: remember how much you love them; what they meant to you throughout your life; what they gave to you in your youth; the values that they instilled in you; and the years of joy they gave to everyone.

These memories will sustain you through the toughest days.

Find a moment in each day to appreciate even the smallest thing.

Your life will be richer for the gift of comfort you give.

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