The term “Sandwich Generation,” coined in the early 1980s, quite aptly characterized those Baby Boomers who were “caught in the middle,” caring for their older parents as well as their own children. Fast forward 30-plus years and the Boomers are giving way to a new generation of caregivers. More and more young adults are caring for their aging loved ones. In fact, according to a report by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, nearly 25 percent of the 43 million adult caregivers in the U.S. are between the ages of 18-34.
Many of these under-40s are just launching careers, starting families and making their way to financial stability. When you add caregiving for an older relative to the mix, it can become quite a challenge. Awareness, open communication, upfront planning and coping strategies can help make this stressful situation better for everyone.
What Exactly Does Caregiving Mean?
Caring for a mom, dad or grandparent can mean many different things. As your loved ones age and slow down, it may be time to talk about what caregiving means to you and what it means to them. They may need more – or less – support than you think. You’ll only know by talking about it. Some things to consider:
- Caregiving is a role that changes with time and circumstances. As our loved ones age, the level of care they need progresses. Today it may mean dropping by the house regularly, tomorrow it may mean making that tough decision that Mom or Dad can’t live alone. Stay flexible.
- Open communication along with a healthy dose of respect is critical. Experts say don’t wait for a crisis or circumstances to reaching a boiling point. Once you notice your parent may need help, start talking – logically, compassionately and calmly.
- Don’t go it alone. Caring for an aging parent should never rest on one sibling. If you are an only child, tap into the numerous resources available for caregivers.
You May Never Hear “I Need Help.”
It’s hard for parents to ask adult kids for help. The more time marches on, the more fiercely we guard our independence. If open conversation isn’t working, be on the look-out for signs:
- Changes in appearance and grooming
- Messier house than normal, overgrown yard
- An empty fridge, or one full of expired, spoiled food
- Stacks of unopened mail, overdue bills or unfilled prescriptions
- Trouble communicating or articulating
- Becoming significantly slower
- Forgetfulness or confusion, perhaps missing appointments or not taking medicine
- Mood changes, depression, withdrawing from activities
- Unexplained bruising perhaps from falling
- An increase in health concerns
Money, Money, Money
Conversations about money can be awkward, but are important. Things to consider:
- Explain that you want to work with them to protect what they have. If your parent has a financial planner, meet with the planner together and decide where your involvement makes sense.
- Going through the mail might be helpful in keeping track of bills, credit cards, etc. A joint checking account is a good idea to allow you to pay bills, if needed.
- Online accounts with joint access might be a good idea, as long as your loved one is comfortable with online or mobile options.
Health Related Legal Documents
Your parents likely have strong feelings about things like healthcare interventions if they are incapacitated. Appropriate legal documents can ensure their wishes are respected:
- Power of Attorney – designates someone to make legal and financial decisions if they are unable.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney – allows you to make care decisions if they are unable.
- Living will – states the medical care someone wants to receive if he or she becomes incapacitated or seriously ill and can’t communicate.
- A DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) – lets the physician know what steps a person doesn’t want taken in the event heart or breathing stops.
Becoming a Healthcare Advocate
One of the most important roles you may fill for an aging loved one is healthcare advocate. As your parent ages, an open relationship with his or her doctor helps make sure their needs are met.
- Talk to your loved one about accompanying him or her to appointments to better understand health needs and how you can help.
- Maintain an updated list of all medicines for doctor visits.
- Keep a copy of the insurance card and contact phone numbers so you can facilitate reimbursement or confirm coverage.
- Gain permission for the doctor’s office to share results/reports with you.
- Take notes during the visit and go over them with your parent.
Staying active is important for the mental and physical health of your loved one. If issues with aging bone and joints or conditions such as arthritis are keeping Mom, Dad or Grandpa housebound, ask the doctor if a consultation with a bone and joint specialist might be in order. Procedures such as hip or knee replacements and options like physical therapy are increasingly common in older adults and can add to years of mobility.
Caring for the Mind
As we age, changes to the brain are common and can impact mental function. Loved ones may have trouble remembering a name, multitasking or have a slight decline in their ability to pay attention. If you begin to notice gaps in memory or forgetfulness that worries you, it may be beneficial to consult with an expert in Alzheimer’s and dementia, like a neurologist.
Home is Where the Heart is
It’s difficult for everyone when it becomes clear a loved one should probably not live alone. In cases of severe dementia or Alzheimer’s, there are specialized memory facilities to provide care. In other cases, aside from moving your loved one in with you or a sibling, common options are in-home professional care or an assisted living facility.
An assisted living environment allows your loved one to remain independent while becoming part of a community. It can also help keep seniors active, mobile and safe. Assisted living facilities often provide services such as housekeeping, transportation, laundry, etc. On the downside, it’s less independent and private than remaining at home.
In-home care allows seniors to stay in their homes while also receiving the care they need. Care options can range from a visiting health professional to someone who helps with daily tasks – cooking, cleaning, transportation, etc. The downside to home care is cost, which can vary widely depending on the type and level of care needed.
Care for the Caregiver
Caregiving can be one of the most stressful personal situations in which we find ourselves, but there are resources to help. Ask for help from family, support groups, daycare centers or home health agencies. Regardless, don’t ignore your own health and well-being – for both your sake and for your aging loved ones. It is important to monitor your own stress levels, remember to make time for yourself and seek help when needed.