Deciding to Serve as a Family Caregiver: Eight Factors to Consider

In our rapidly aging society, more and more of us find ourselves transitioning into the role of caregiver for an older relative. Consider these common scenarios:

  • A senior experiences a stroke, heart attack, hip fracture or other health crisis, and family step in to support recovery.
  • A senior loved one is living with a chronic illness or Alzheimer's disease. As time passes, family members provide a greater amount of transportation, healthcare management and hands-on medical and personal care as their loved one's care needs grow.
  • It seems unsafe for elderly parents to be living alone—but Mom and Dad don’t want to move to an assisted living community.

Or, maybe your senior parent is still independent and in good health, so you really haven't given caregiving much thought? Whatever your situation, if you are an adult child of senior parents, thinking through your role and planning ahead will help you be ready if you become one of the 65 million Americans who are providing care for an elderly loved one—whether that means hands-on, full-time support, managing a loved one's care from afar, or having your loved one move in with you. And as you think about your role, you might realize that even if you don’t call yourself a caregiver, you are!

If you are considering serving as primary caregiver for a parent or other elderly person, or you think you might be called upon to do so in the future, or if you already are providing care but your role is likely to expand, here are some questions to consider:

Q: Where will my loved one live? Is a retirement community, assisted living or other senior housing option the best choice? If your loved one prefers to stay in his or her own home, is that a safe and workable option? Is the home suitable for current and future needs? If not, would having your loved one move into your home be a workable arrangement? How much assistance would you need to provide? Would your home need to be modified for safety and accessibility?

Q: How would becoming my loved one's caregiver affect my job? Caregiving can be a full-time job in itself. Stressed-out working caregivers often feel torn between their work and caregiving responsibilities. They may miss out on advancement opportunities or be passed over for promotions. They are likely to use all their vacation for caregiving, and then to take unpaid leave.

Q: Should I quit my job to care for my loved one? A poll in the September 2013 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter found that almost two-thirds of respondents who were working caregivers had cut back on work hours, quit their job or taken a less-demanding position. But experts warn caregivers to think things through carefully before leaving their paid employment. According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, employed caregivers lose an average of $304,000 in salary, reduced Social Security benefits and pensions if they leave the workforce prematurely to provide care. And caregivers trying to re-enter the workforce when their caregiving duties lessen may encounter barriers.

Q: How do I get along with my loved one? The emotional climate when an elderly loved one needs care can be a mixed bag. Some families find that caregiving nourishes an increased sense of love and connection between the generations. In other families, everyone butts heads! Living together in this way can be intense. If your relationship with your parent was already strained or difficult, caregiving can magnify the difficulties.

Q: How will my caregiving role affect other family members? Do children still live in the home? How much time will caregiving take away from your responsibilities to them? If your loved one moves in with you, what accommodations will other family members be expected to make? How do your spouse and others get along with the person? Is your family good at talking about problems without undue tension?

Q: Am I qualified to provide the level of care my loved one needs? Caregiving can be physically taxing, for example, when you help your loved one transfer from bed to wheelchair. And a recent AARP study revealed many family caregivers today provide medication management, wound care, injections and other medical and nursing tasks. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease or a related condition presents even greater challenges. Are you confident that you can manage these types of tasks if your loved one is living with you or independently?

Q: What help can I expect from other family members and friends? Often it happens that one person evolves into the caregiving role, only to feel resentful that siblings and other family aren’t helping out enough. Have a family meeting before making your decision so everyone will have an understanding of how they will participate in your loved one's care—with their time, and also financially.

Q: What resources are available to support my caregiving? This might be the most important question! You can't do it alone. For your loved one's well-being and for your own physical and emotional health, bringing in support is a must to balance your loved one's care and all the other facets of your life. Consult with a geriatric care manager or elder law attorney to learn about some of your options and to understand the financial implications of your choice. Find out about senior centers, adult day centers, senior transportation, Meals-on-Wheels programs, respite care and support groups.

The Role of Professional In-Home Care

A growing number of families are taking advantage of in-home care to help them balance caregiving, their jobs and other responsibilities. In-home care keeps elderly loved ones safe at home, no matter where they live. Skilled nursing care can be provided in the home. Less-costly nonmedical home care services might include:

  • Personal care and hygiene, such as bathing, dressing, grooming, toileting and assistance with transferring from bed to chair.
  • Housekeeping and laundry services.
  • Meal planning and preparation.
  • Transportation to health appointments, shopping and activities.
  • Medication reminders.
  • Socialization and companionship.
  • Memory care and supervision for clients with Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive impairment.
  • Serving as a liaison for out-of-town family caregivers to provide reassurance and peace of mind.

Professional home care can provide high-quality care for your loved one while supporting family members. This is a topic to discuss early rather than later and should be part of financial planning. Most families hire and pay for home care privately, which is well worth it to help family maintain their careers and to provide maximum independence for their loved one.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.