Hello Boomers, let me welcome you to the sandwich generation. Baby Boomers born in the years between 1946 – 1964 including retirees and those still in their prime income producing years often find themselves caught between caring for aging parents and supporting ther own children and grandchildren. Even if you don’t fit this particular profile, chances are you are busy with your own on-going career and other pursuits.
Nearly half of all Baby Boomers say tending to their own health and well-being comes second to caring for the health needs of loved ones. Humana commissioned a survey of 1,000 Baby Boomers and measured the considerable impact on them as primary caregivers. Today, in the United States, there are over 61 million caregivers who often draw a critical support role, primarily caring at home for elderly parents and spouses, while others devote time at skilled nursing facilities, long-term care and assisted living communities. While 81 percent of the Boomers surveyed feel appreciated for providing such care, an equal number also feel stressed and exhausted. More than 33 percent of those surveyed say they often feel helpless. The physical, emotional and financial consequences for the family caregiver can be overwhelming.
People who ignore their personal well-being are fine at first. But over time, the impact on one’s own personal health can be seen as weight gain, fatigue, and stress-related illnesses. Sixty percent of family caregivers surveyed reported fair or poor health, one or more chronic conditions or a disability, compared with only one-third of non-caregivers. The Humana study further concludes that many of the Boomers are making considerable sacrifices to care for aging parents.
- 63% have devoted less time to their hobbies and personal interests,
- 46% have given up social activities,
- 43% have skipped vacations, and
- 36% have dipped into their personal savings.
Another very interesting paradigm is that Boomers can expect to live into their eighties, with a significant number making it to their 90’s. that’s probably not much of a surprise based on the numerous advances in science and medicine. Here is what is remarkable about that. Due to what we’ve observed and experienced caring for our senior loved ones, Boomers will focus on the fact that a longer life will only be a better life for those who maintain the optimum level of healthcare (exercise, diet, wellness programs, etc.), not only for them but for family members, as well, who will eventually be put in a position of caring for them. In other words, it is incumbent that we seniors maintain the highest level of health and wellness for our own prosperity and ensure our children and their children do the same.
After reading these very depressing statistics, and yes they are quite depressing AND real. Just ask my BoomerGuy and me to comment, because we are still in the thick of things as caregivers for over seven years.
Let me take you down the road of what’s it like to be a caregiver, at least from my perspective. I suppose my situation is unique because both my parents are in a skilled nursing facility, but there was time when they weren’t. They were home-bound and completely reliant on care from an outside source. Let me explain, but first…
I really like the comments from the former First Lady, Roselyn Carter, when she said, “there are four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.
Prior to relocating closer to my parents, my two sisters would fill in as “caregivers.” At that time, which was about ten years ago, the caregiving entailed a few chores around the house, bi-weekly visits to help fill out the pantry, and an occasional ride to their primary care physician once every six months. As time progressed, my husband and I moved from northern California to be closer to my parents in southern California, who were at the time in their early-80’s. The physical trip was an arduous 600 miles, but a much easier journey than what I’ve been facing over the past number of years as the primary caregiver.
Because of proximity, and as the oldest of the three siblings, I became the de facto primary caregiver, along with the Power of Attorney (POA) and Trustee for their property, financial and legal affairs. You simply cannot underestimate the importance of the caregiver role, because it certainly encompasses more than occasional visits and hand-holding, and as such. Even though I was empowered, I didn’t realize the complexity and thus the rigors of the responsibility.
But I felt I had little choice, as I was the clear nominee for the POA and Trustee and living within an hour made it all the more real to take on the overall plan for caring. At the time, my parents were living at home, but were severely limited in what they could do. My father, with early dementia, was at the end of his driving privileges, and my mother was in advanced stage macular degeneration which absolutely prohibited her from getting around without a walker, let alone driving. They were both home-bound with their walkers, unable to drive themselves, and limited to use of the microwave because we disabled the knobs on the gas burners on the stove for obvious reasons.
PROFESSIONAL HOME CARE
With all that, it became clear we needed help on a daily basis, so my sister and I contracted with a local, professional caregiving service. They were hired to be on site 3-4 days a week, and on call as needed. One person from their company was designated and approved to look after my parents. This was essential for purposes of continuity—outside of family, this was the one person my parents would come to know, count on and relate. However, it soon became abundantly clear the service would send any available employee that would fit their schedule, regardless of what we had contracted.
My message here is don’t be fooled by the commercials on TV making it sound so glamorous to have people on-site at your parent’s home. While we thought we had done our due diligence, what we found was not unusual, according to the many investigations we uncovered. When we were not present, these people would prey on my parents. We learned eventually they would do the same with other seniors who they serviced. They would use their car with little regard for the occasional dents and scrapes, use their credit card for food and disguise their personal expenses, ask my parents if they could have this or that memento they found in the house, remove money from their cash stash, and other ridiculous things. The worst was when I would stop in for a surprise visit and found them not working nor caring, rather sitting at the kitchen table reading their favorite novel. Now, I’m not saying all caregiving services are like this, but I am putting out a word of caution to do your homework very carefully. One of my best days was when my BoomerGuy fired them putting an end to my sense of dread about what they may or may not be doing next.
On the one hand we were thankful to no longer have the unpredictability and stress of the “professional” in-house daily care service, but on the other hand the full responsibility of care giving subsequently fell on my shoulders. Inasmuch as I was an hour away, I became the sole in-house care and support team at least four days a week, and many weeks it was more.
I would stage their food preparation so all they had to do was remove it from the refrigerator and microwave it (remember we disabled the gas stove top). I made sure their bread was on the counter and accessible so all they had to do in the morning was pop it in the toaster. Hygiene was another issue because both were incontinent and had to wear adult diapers. Bathing and showering were left to me to assist during the days I was in attendance. House cleaning then became a major issue because they were simply not ambulatory enough to look after themselves, let alone cleaning up after any messes in the kitchen or elsewhere. All of these may seem like very simple and minor tasks, but they take on a life of their own. It’s like a full-time job devoting to someone else. Trust me when I say this will chew on your emotions and occupy your time so much that I wasn’t addressing my own personal and family needs.
YOU’RE AFRAID YOU’RE WRONG ABOUT YOURSELF
I found this quote very telling about my circumstances. “There are days when you feel you have so much to give your aging loved ones and everyone around you, and then there are other days you are truly a stump in the ground and you can really only be a place for someone to sit and stay for a while. Trust me when I say all of these versions of you are normal and to be expected as you walk down the road as caregiver. There will be tender moments you will look back on with fondness. There are other moments when you will feel wrought with guilt, because you feel like you just didn’t or couldn’t give enough.”
THE AGONY OF THE DREADED “FALL RISK”
In addition to all the issues that I mention above, there is this little thing called “fall risk.” Well it’s not so little, nor should you minimize it because it’s real and it does happen. My father was the first to begin falling, when he fell in his garden and broke his leg. He was relegated to sleeping in the dining room, where we set up a bed, because he couldn’t climb the stairs to his bedroom. After several other episodes, it became clear to my BoomerGuy and me that we had to alter the status quo and begin a different strategy—one that would take us down the path of finding a skilled nursing facility to look after him 24 x 7. This is a big reality check. In another post, I will share with you the in’s and out’s of finding a good and suitable SNF, but I will say for purposes of this post that you must connect with and include your parent’s primary care physician early on in the process to share the specific circumstances surrounding your request to place your loved one in such a facility. It needs to be well-documented to get their endorsement. That’s exactly what we had to do, in fact, we even met with the physician in person several times and hand carried our documentation and photos. Note to oneself: you simply cannot walk down the street, pick out a nursing home, and say let’s put them there without a physician making it possible.
That was several years ago. My father was at first somewhat defiant but gradually adjusted to his surroundings and the nursing and support staff, and along the way requiring a significant amount of my time calming him. Remember me talking about the fall risk. My mother who was now at home alone except for my care, suddenly lost her balance and fell on the kitchen floor breaking her hip. She was rushed into surgery where they repaired the hip, but at that very moment she became completely non-ambulatory and could no longer walk and care for herself. She followed my father into the same nursing home by a few weeks, where they are now both full-time, long-term residents.
It’s worthwhile to note that my parents reside in the same room. This is actually encouraged by the care facility because, in my parent’s case they have not only been together as a married couple for almost 70 years, it is a well-known fact they will form an interdependent relationship that is linked to their health. The close dynamics of being in the same room can influence how they care for themselves but also for one another as a relationship-centered behavior. Adopting this sort of exchange can lead to enhanced motivation for both parents to carry out improved self-care and at the same time support one another in the process. In our situation, their close proximity to one another is far more efficient, productive and healthy than when they were separated in different rooms and in different locations within the nursing home facility.
Because this is such a heavy subject, let’s take a break and go get some coffee. We will continue this JOURNEY tomorrow.
“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart”