Two years ago, I abruptly stopped writing this blog because I no longer had the time to write each week. My elderly parents, who had been dealing with various health issues, suddenly needed a lot more help. My father was my mother’s caregiver until he had a stroke. Since my husband and I live the closest, the old proximity rule kicked in and we became their helpers several times a week after work and on weekends.
In my full-time job working at a continuum of care retirement community with independent residents who are 55 and older, I help Seniors find the right kind of home and the right level of care. I also work with family members, connecting them with resources in the community whether it be a caregiver to help with bathing, or a pharmacy that will deliver medicines, or perhaps where to find a product their Senior family member might need…such as a scooter or a lift recliner. The goal is always to try to help people stay independent for as long as possible.
Family members often share their fears and frustrations about being thrust into a caregiver role that they may not have time or training or patience to do. Some have sat in my office and cried at the sheer unfairness of needing to care for Senior parents when they have jobs and children at home.
I am very familiar with the many issues that Seniors and their families deal with on a daily basis but it is very different when it becomes personal.
Recently, on a work WebEx call, we were told that 53 million people in the United States are now unpaid caregivers for Senior family members. Since there are 330 million people who live in our country today, that means 1/6th of us are unpaid and often untrained caregivers above and beyond whatever jobs we may be working to support ourselves and our families.
There are several reasons so many of us are in a caregiver role that we never expected to be in. The first one is that the 76.4 million Baby Boomers born after WWII, (between 1946-1964) are all over the age 55. We’ve also had a huge influx of Seniors to our population since the year 2011 when the first Baby Boomers reached age 65.
The second reason is that advances in medicine have enabled people to live longer. According to the CDC, the average life expectancy as of 2019 was 78.8 years, with women living on average approximately four years longer than men.
Finally, because people are living longer, their retirement savings might not stretch far enough to cover costs for all the years of their lives. And, the high cost of care is not affordable for many families, whether it be in the form of help at home or in a facility.
In my family’s situation, we have been able to hire caregivers for several hours each day and then my husband and I shop and deliver groceries and supplies each weekend. I make all of the doctor appointments for my parents and make sure they get their vaccines. I manage the ordering of medicines for both of them and fill their pillboxes each week. We also make sure their bills are paid and take care of their home maintenance and repairs. We had to learn how to check blood pressure and how to work an oxygen machine. It hasn’t been easy for us, and it isn’t easy for any of you who are doing the same.
As a result of his stroke, my father is also now dealing with dementia. This occasionally provides us with some moments of levity such as the day I found the eggs in the freezer and my dad said, “I don’t know who would have put those there.” We’ve also found socks in the silverware drawer, shave cream in the refrigerator, clean folded laundry in the garage, and moldy sandwiches in my dad’s walker.
Often there’s laundry detergent in the clothes dryer because my dad’s dementia has decided that the dryer is actually the washing machine. Sometimes he will try to change a TV channel with a cordless phone or try to make a call with the TV remote. It’s funny and tragic all rolled together.
Fortunately, my parents have retained their senses of humor and we can all laugh together about those things. One day, my mother said, “Getting old is not for sissies” and boy was she ever right about that! Every day is a bit of an adventure. As family caregivers, we do what we need to and we simply do the best we can.
Author’s note: I would love to read your comments about this post, as well as your stories, advice, questions, etc., about caregiving.