The Challenges of Elderly Caregivers

December 22, 2015

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According to a June 2015 survey by the American Association of Retired People, in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving, seven percent of unpaid care givers in the United States are over 75-years old. To put this number in context, that equals over three million people age 75 or older helping another with activities of daily living that include dressing, bathing, or using a toilet.

These caregivers have been thrust into the role as people live longer than ever before. Forty-six percent of these caregivers are spouses, while the remaining 54 percent care for siblings, other relatives, or friends and neighbors.The report also disclosed that eight percent of caregivers over age 75 are caring for their parents who are usually around 95 years of age.

In terms of an older generation taking care of others in their generation, it is not only septuagenarians caring for their spouses. Baby Boomers, many in their sixties, are also caring for parents or spouses in their home. Some of these folks suffer from dementia, but many are clear-minded folks whose bodies have betrayed them and they are now physically frail.

Caring for the Caregiver

When the burdens associated with caregiving at home become overwhelming, it is not a sign of weakness. Caregiving is a round-the-clock task that can be draining and stressful. As such, it is not unusual for caregivers to need some time off. Here are a few options caregivers have when they need some time off:

  • Call on another relative to stay with a loved one while you take a vacation
  • Rely on a care facility to give you a needed respite
  • Hire round-the-clock nursing assistants while you are home to help provide care

Is Home the Right Choice?

Often it is. However, physicians have an obligation to inform caregivers about alternatives to home care. Preparing the patient and the patient’s family for the next step when home care is no longer the right choice should begin early. Physicians that encourage patients to make advanced directives and understand their future health care needs are making things easier when – and if – a family has to choose a different form of care.

When caregiving needs are relatively simple and not physical taxing for the caregiver, staying home just may be the best choice. If needs expand or become physically challenging to the caregiver, it may be the time to start making some visits to continuing care facilities. For instance, a patient with mild Parkinson’s disease at age 65 needs physician encouragement as well as family encouragement to consider a different level of care when their disease worsens over time.

Millions of Americans share the stress as the primary caregiver for someone in the home. Choosing an in-residence facility for your loved one is not a sign that your love has ended. Instead, it is recognition that there are limits on how much elderly caregivers can do before their own health and welfare are in danger.

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