We are so focused on caring for our senior loved ones that we don’t always contemplate our own needs, desires and future.
Our day to day caregiving duties can take a toll on our spirit, health, relationships and finances. Because it is taking a toll on us, whether we recognize it or not, now is a good time to reflect about our own aging and our personal feelings of the consequences of our aging.
What actions should we recognize as necessary in order to improve our longevity so that we can be there for our families and for those whom we act as caregivers?
Global Attitudes About Aging
The United States is not alone in having a population that is growing older. The rest of the world is also aging. As a matter of fact, statistically America is aging at a slower rate than many countries. China is facing an aging crisis with more seniors than family caregivers. Other countries such as Japan have rapidly increasing numbers of elders in relation to the overall population.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, in 2010 the proportion of people 65 and older was the greatest in Japan, where it was at 23% versus 13% in the United States. By 2050 those numbers are projected to grow to 36.5% in Japan and 21.4% in the US.
Those surveyed in the countries with the largest senior populations reported having little confidence in their ability to continue with an adequate standard of living in their old age. Most in these countries believe that it is the responsibility of the government to see to the needs of the aged but this idea does not instill confidence in that actually occurring and feel that the burden will fall to the family. Americans seem to be more confident in their ability to maintain a standard of living and don’t think the government should be responsible but the aging individual himself.
Perhaps many in the US realize that fewer workers adding to the tax base will not support the care of our aging seniors so that feel they need to plan for their own future.
As our life expectancy also lengthens it will cause us to work longer, stay healthier, and be sure our financial future has been planned out to ensure that we can maintain our standard of living for a longer period of time. One concern is our ability to pay for healthcare, as the cost for health services is projected to rise rapidly.
What Can Caregivers Do?
There are many potential actions and considerations for family caregivers as we ourselves age.
Plan to push your retirement back to an older age
Many have realized that the dream of retiring at age 62 or even younger may not be a reality and working until age 70 is more of a reality than desired. Make arrangements with your employer to work a flexible schedule so that you can provide the caregiving you need without danger of putting your job at risk.
Make a financial plan for your retirement
Work with an adviser to answer the tough questions about how much money you will need to save to maintain the standard of living that you desire at the same time paying for any healthcare costs you might encounter. You may need to consider your current spending, creating a budget and a plan to eliminate your present debt in order to sail into retirement financially sound.
Now look into your senior’s financial planning and be sure it is optimized now so that your finances are not being spent on their care needs.
Care for your own health
Make lifestyle choices regarding your habits and create an action plan to improve your choices. Keeping healthy now will mean that your future healthcare needs may be held in check.
- Are you eating healthy? We all know we need fruits and vegetables, lower fat, lower salt and more fiber. Are you doing it?
- Are you drinking enough water and getting enough sleep?
- Are you physically active and not just being busy? It is important to get your heart rate going not just being busy with routine chores.
- Have you stopped smoking and is your drinking in moderation only?
- Will you be healthy enough to continue to be a caregiver or will you need a caregiver yourself?
- Are you going to be able to care for your senior loved one if you are fighting chronic disease and disability in yourself?
- Will you be able to afford your own impaired health?
Get respite, ask for help and accept help that is offered whenever it is offered
Let others help you. Have little jobs ready to give to others when they offer, don’t just say you are doing fine. Let someone sit with your senior so you can take a hot bath, go for a walk, meditate, read a book, attend a support group, or just sit down alone.
There are organizations and senior care centers that can provide respite care.
Plan for the possibility that someone will need to replace you as caregiver
Do you have a living will or advance directives in case of an emergency? It is not just our seniors that need to execute their wishes. Have you made someone your successor if you are the proxy for your senior, do they know where your senior’s documents are located, will they know how to get into the safety deposit box or even that one exists? Will they be able to function as your senior’s financial executive?
Is your senior’s information regarding banking, retirement plans, insurance, and financial investments accessible if you aren’t able to be in charge? Is yours?
Get emotional support throughout your caregiving journey
Caring for others while maintaining a healthy marriage or partnership can be overwhelming at times when duties have you pulled in many directions. It takes a network to fulfill all the roles you play at times so take advantage of it so that you can prevent burnout.
You might benefit by connecting with a friend to talk with about your stressors, share with a sibling some of the caregiving duties, seek out professional counseling from a specialist or church leader, join a support group either personally or online, keep lines of communication open within your network, and find time to nurture your relationships with others important to you and the one with yourself.
Don’t neglect your own needs – remember put the oxygen mask on yourself first.
We can’t change the fact that we are aging as are our senior loved ones and our family members. That is the circle of life.
However, our attitude about aging and the preparations we make to face the future will help us do it the best that we possibly can.