"I'm Not a Caregiver … Yet!"

Father and son on the golf course

During a Father's Day round of golf, Tomas thought, "Dad is in such good shape, I can hardly keep up with him!"

Maybe, like Tomas, your parents are healthy and independent, and you feel years away from the time when elder care would be an issue for you. Perhaps you subscribe to Caring Right at Home primarily for the healthy aging tips.

Here's something to consider: Planning for caregiving is a healthy aging issue! Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful. Experts report that overburdened caregivers even may neglect their own health to such a degree that the person they're caring for outlives them.

Today, 44 million Americans are providing care for a loved one with a chronic health condition, such as arthritis, vision loss, congestive heart failure, the effects of a stroke, or Alzheimer's disease or other memory loss. And this number is rising. While Americans are living longer, they often are in poor health during their final years. Yet societal changes—smaller families, a higher divorce rate and greater geographic mobility—mean there aren't as many potential caregivers for an older person.

So, if you haven't yet served as a caregiver, here are seven things to consider and discuss, long before you receive a phone call that Mom has broken a hip or Dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease:

1. Who might need care from me? Odds are that at least one of your parents or in-laws will need help staying safe and healthy as they age. Your spouse, siblings or even a child could one day suffer an illness or injury and need care support. And did you know that more Americans are stepping up to help a friend? Demographers are seeing more of this arrangement with today's growing number of "elder orphans" who have no family members to help them.

2. Where would my loved ones live if they needed care? If your folks live nearby, they might stay in their own house or apartment with some help from you. Or, they might choose to live in an assisted living or other senior support environment. If your loved one were to move into your home, would it be a good arrangement? What if children were still living with you? If your parents don't live in the area, how could you help them from afar? Even if it seems that this decision is far in the future, it's good to consider the possibilities now—and to open a conversation with your folks about it.

3. How would I feel about providing care? This is a challenging question for some people. They may not have had the best relationship with a parent or other relative. They might have to do some soul searching when thinking about providing care—and most likely, they've avoided thinking about the possibility at all. Yet hiding your head in the sand can lead to hasty decisions later on. "When the Caregiving Dynamic Is Complicated" in the February 2017 issue of Caring Right at Home took an in-depth look at this subject. Not surprisingly, in a related poll, almost half of respondents said that emotional issues were the most difficult aspect of serving as a family caregiver.

4. What will it cost? The AARP reports that caregivers spend an average of $6,954 each year toward their loved ones' care. Have your loved ones saved for retirement and their healthcare? Do they have long-term care insurance? The generations aren't always comfortable discussing finances, but this is an important conversation to have earlier rather than later. Your parents already may need help with financial management. A recent study appearing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 23 percent of people age 65 – 69 need help managing their finances. For seniors age 85 and older, that number rose to 69 percent. (See "Stepping In, Stepping Up: Legal Issues for Family Caregivers" to learn more about that.)

5. Who else in the family could help? If you have siblings or other relatives who you expect could be part of your parents' care team, talk to them as you're planning ahead. Waiting until the need arises could result in hard feelings if you or another sibling feels you're doing the lion's share of care. This is often the case when only one brother or sister lives in the same area as a parent who needs care.

Senior woman with home care worker

6. What help is available in the community? Check out the website of your local Area Agency on Aging to learn about senior centers, special transportation and caregiver support. (You can find the link through the Eldercare Locator.) Learn about local assisted living or continuing care retirement communities that are well-regarded. If your loved one were to stay at home or live with you, home care can supplement the care you provide. Many families can attest that home care services helped them keep their health, their jobs—and their sanity! Professional caregivers help senior clients with personal care, such as bathing, dressing and using the toilet. They can provide transportation to the grocery store, doctor appointments, the pharmacy, your loved one's faith community and social opportunities. They can keep the house clean and in good order. They even help with pet care. For peace of mind, hire from a reputable agency that handles training, payroll taxes and background checks.

7. Is my job caregiver-friendly? Especially when a loved one has dementia, caregiving can be a full-time job plus. Many working caregivers cut back on or even quit their paid work to provide care. Financial experts say this unplanned exit from a career often leaves caregivers unable to adequately fund their own retirement. Advocates hope that one day caregivers will be a protected class under job discrimination laws, but at present, workers have limited legal protection. Fortunately, more employers today realize that addressing the needs of caregivers is a good way to retain and attract employees. Find out if your company offers family leave, flex time, telecommuting, job sharing, or an employee assistance and wellness program with resources for caregivers.

If you are already a caregiver, but you have friends who aren't, you might want to forward this article to them! We all hope that our parents, spouse, other loved ones—and ourselves—will be part of the lucky minority that remains healthy and independent right up until the end of life. But planning ahead promotes the best quality of life for seniors, no matter what the future brings.

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.