With many Americans living well beyond their 70s, many baby boomers are faced with the challenge of caring for aging parents. According to a 2009 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65 million people in the U.S. serve as unpaid caregivers to friends or family members in a given year, with more than a third caring for an aging parent.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize all those who dedicate themselves to caring for others.
In recognition of the occasion, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center's Senior Extra program would like to share some tips for those considering care options for an aging parent.
Types of assistance and care
Depending on your loved one's needs, there are a number of options available. If your parent is still able to live independently but may need some assistance, check with the local senior center to learn about available community services.
Many communities offer programs that provide meal delivery, volunteer visits, and assistance with shopping and transportation. However, if your parent is unable to live independently, these are some of the most common alternatives:
• Home health. With home health care, a professional caregiver comes into your, or your parent's, home and provides assistance with whatever is needed — whether it's help with chores, bathing, meals, or providing 24-hour care.
This is the most flexible of all the options, but can be expensive.
• Adult day care. If you decide to be the primary caregiver, these programs can offer respite, allowing you to work, run errands, or have time to yourself.
Depending on the program, centers provide social activities, meals and some health-related services.
Some programs may specialize in caring for people with specific conditions, such as dementia.
• Assisted living facilities. These facilities provide assistance to those who need some services — such as help with bathing, meal preparation or medications — but can still live fairly independently.
In most cases, these facilities won't accept those who can't get around on their own or have significant medical needs. It's important to find out exactly what services are offered, as each facility is different.
• Nursing homes. Nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities, are for people who don't need to be in a hospital but can't be cared for at home. Most have nurses available 24 hours a day.
Nursing homes can accommodate people with a wide range of conditions, including dementia.
• Hospice. Hospice is end-of-life care focused on keeping terminally ill people as comfortable as possible. Depending on the program, hospice care can be provided at home or in a facility, and care is delivered by nurses, social workers, home-health aides, spiritual leaders, and others. In most cases, hospice services include support for both patients and their families.
• Continuing care retirement communities. CCRCs offer a tiered approach, designed to change with an individual's needs.
Healthy adults can begin by living independently in single family homes or apartments, and move into the assisted living or nursing care facility when it becomes necessary.
These communities offer individuals the option of living in one location for the duration of their life. CCRCs are the most expensive of long-term care options.
"One of the most important initial steps is talking with your parent — learning about his or her preferences and concerns, gathering information, discussing finances, and setting expectations," said Dr. Gary Ward of Poplar Bluff Primary Care. "Assuming they're able to participate, it's important for individuals to continue to make decisions and be involved. Have an open, honest conversation and discuss your role and how you will be helping."
Resources for caregivers
Determining the right solution for your loved one's care can feel overwhelming, particularly if you don't live nearby.
There are a number of resources that can help you with all aspects of the process, such as planning and choosing the right health care partners, understanding legal requirements, and getting emotional support and advice. These organizations offer a wealth of information and resources:
• AARP (www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving). The Caregiving Resource Center offers information on planning and resources, benefits and insurance, legal and financial matters, and much more.
You'll find tools such as a long-term care calculator, a care facility locator by zip code, and more.
• Caregiver Action Network (www.caregiveraction.org). This organization provides education, peer support and resources for caregivers of those with chronic conditions, disabilities, and frailties of old age.
The website offers information and resources for new and seasoned caregivers, those assisting with care from afar, and caregivers who work full time.
• Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov). A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, Eldercare Locator connects you with services for older adults by zip code or city and state.
You can also call them weekdays from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (EST) at 1-800-677-1116.
Caregivers: Don't neglect your own needs
Taking care of someone who's sick or unable to live independently can take a toll on your health and well-being.
Therefore, it's important to take care of yourself to avoid exhaustion or burnout.
These tips can help reduce your stress:
• Don't neglect your physical needs. Eat nutritious meals, find time to exercise, and get enough sleep to maintain your overall health.
• Connect with friends. Make time to meet regularly with friends or family members to stay positive and reduce feelings of isolation.
• Ask for assistance. Make a list of things you need help with and recruit others to pitch in.
Some tasks can be completed remotely, so don't limit your requests to those nearby.
• Manage your emotions. Get support from other caregivers you know, or join a caregiver support group. Holding in your feelings impacts both emotional and physical health.