Our lives are busy. Most Americans seem to be juggling a family, household chores, working out, eating healthy, full-time employment, and maybe, squeezing in some personal time. Our delicate spinning-plates act can come crashing down when mom suffers a stroke or dad has a bad fall. Adding primary caregiving to your responsibilities may seem almost insurmountable. However, you adjust your schedule, set up a room in your house, and address what needs to be done—often sacrificing your health, finances, and sleep in the process.
Being the primary caregiver for a parent or spouse places a lot of unexpected demands on maxed out caregivers. Caregivers are great at helping but are often the last person who asks for help. Family members and close friends can play a key role in supporting a caregiver. The first step is to offer help in a specific way. Don’t ask, “Do you need anything?” But rather, “I can take mom to her weekly physical therapy appointment and out to lunch every Tuesday.” Committing your time and following through will give the caregiver a much-needed break. Overwhelmed caregivers may not know what they need help with, so offer to help with a date, time, or task. Once they accept your help, they may be willing to ask for help more frequently.
Many siblings or family members, who are not in the same city as you and your loved one, may feel helpless. We suggest that if you can’t give of your time due to location, that perhaps you can help financially. According to a study by AARP, the average family caregiver for a senior spends $5,531 per year on out of pocket expenses. Moreover, if the primary caregiver is employed, they will often reduce their hours or quit to provide full-time care to a loved one. A MetLife study estimates of income-related losses sustained by family caregivers ages 50 and older, who leave the workforce to care for a parent, are $303,880, on average, in lost income and benefits over a caregiver’s lifetime.
Of course, everyone’s financial situation is different. Whatever your means, consider thoughtful ways that you can support a stressed-out caregiver. A gift card for a day at the spa or an hour massage could help melt away tension. Paying for a weekly meal delivery could benefit the entire family to eat healthier and remove the burden of shopping and menu planning. Arrange a time for the caregiver to pick-up prepaid groceries or arrange a grocery delivery. And if you are in the financial position, offer to help or pay for an hourly caregiver to come to their home, a temporary respite stay at an assisted living community, or a portion of the expense of assisted living. Many families are afraid to talk about expenses and how to handle care costs. However, financial assistance may be what a primary caregiver needs help with most.
Although caregiving can be fulfilling, and bring family closer together, it can also take an emotional toll. The caregiver may be riding a rolling tide of emotions between feeling alone, overwhelmed, sad, frustrated, and sometimes, even angry. Also, their parent can be feeling an array of emotions. They may be caring for a loved one whose health is in decline, or they may be in denial to protect themselves from the pain. Often the parent/child role has reversed—this strange, new dynamic shouldn’t be underestimated. Caregiving is not always a comfortable situation.
To help an emotionally taxed caregiver, we suggest that you create a safe place and an opportunity for them to vent, rant, cry, and take a deep breath. Give them uninterrupted time on the phone or take them on a walk and listen to their concerns. They need to share and work through their mix of emotions. Lending an ear may be all they need to release their frustration. Be kind to them and offer them your time to talk about how they feel, without judgment.
Watch for signs of depression or anxiety in the caregiver. A grueling schedule and a swarm of demands can lead to negative feelings. They may also be neglecting their health—skipping personal medical appointments, not exercising, eating fast food out of convenience, and experiencing high levels of stress. This emotional toll may not only affect the caregiver but all who live in the household. Perhaps you can offer to temporarily stay to watch your parent while your sibling takes a family vacation or arrange for respite care for them to get a break. Caregiver burnout is a concern. Every caregiver needs time for themselves to reconnect and recharge. Reassure your family caregiver it’s not selfish, but necessary for them to focus on their health too.
At Aegis Living, we offer temporary care for families who need someone to care for their loved one on a short-term basis. Your loved one will enjoy all the activities, amenities, and cuisine that the community offers while staying in a private, furnished apartment. Our Aegis Living care staff are experts in memory care, making our program a great option if your parent has Alzheimer’s’ or another form of dementia. Your family will have the peace of mind knowing they are in expert hands. Contact a community near you today to find out more about our respite care program.