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Caring for the Family Caregiver

How to help family caregivers protect their own health and wellbeing

There are around 34.2 million people in the U.S. caring for an older relative, with many providing care for 20 hours a week. But family caregivers do more than just help their relatives, they also save the U.S. government just under $500 billion a year. As older adults make up the fastest-growing population and are also now living longer, a gap is widening between the need and availability of family caregivers. By 2030, nearly 73 million Americans will be at least 65 and the number of older adults over 60 likely to need support is expected to rise to 37% by 2050.

Older adults often need family support
As the average age increases, the number of older adults requiring support is growing every year.
(Image by JD Mason)

Taking on responsibility for an elderly parent

A report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine urges the new presidential administration to create a nationwide strategy that provides better support to family caregivers. The report outlines that the average caregiver is over 55, married and the average age of the person they care for is 79 years old. Family caregivers often have higher rates of anxiety, stress, depression and illness, according to the report. And it's common for caregivers to reduce their expenses, working hours or simply leave their jobs to be able to balance caring for their elderly relative while looking after their own family.

Pressure on families and relationships

Providing care for a parent or relative as they get older can be rewarding and stressful (PDF). Research shows that an increasing number of family caregivers are having to perform more nursing tasks. Relatives are having to deliver injections, undertake colostomy and catheter care, maintain tube feeds and many other complex care requirements.

There can also be added pressures on the carer and care receiver relationship. Often just raising the topic of care with an older relative or parent can be very difficult, especially if the person is unwilling to accept that they need help. Caring for an older loved one can also add significant financial strain for families.

Looking after yourself as the carer

It is a huge responsibility to take on the care of older relatives, even if they are your own parents. It can be a huge drain on your time, energy, finances and health. But it's important that you look after yourself too and eat and sleep well and take breaks when possible. It's also important to talk to your own doctor if you are finding things are getting a bit too much. Sometimes just talking to someone can make a huge difference. Always try to make the most of the good times, so when things are difficult, you have some positive memories to hold on to.

Taking care of older relatives is a huge responsibility
Providing care to a family member, including one's own elderly parents, is a big responsibility
that can be a huge drain on one's time, energy, finances and health.

There are a number of strategies that can help family caregivers to protect their own health and wellbeing.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You cannot do this alone and there is nothing to be ashamed with in asking for help. You want to give your parents the best care, so to do that you need the right support. It is important to ask for help before you actually need it and before you hit the wall of exhaustion. Whether it is by speaking to your doctor, or asking members of your family for help. Find out what community resources are available in your area and give yourself the breaks you need.

Be organized

To take some of the pressure off you and keep everything afloat, create a schedule of your daily tasks, as well as a calendar for outings and appointments. This will mean that if you take some time off, or are unwell, someone else can step in and easily pick up what needs to be done.

Develop a support network for you

For many people, just knowing they are not alone is hugely valuable. Being able to get stuff off their chest, share feelings and emotions can make a huge difference. Having a sympathetic ear or compassionate group of like-minded people offers perspective and comfort.

When caring gets too much

If looking after an older relative is simply proving too much for you and your family to cope with, then you may have to make the difficult decision to place them in a care home facility. This is particularly important if your own health is starting to suffer or the person’s condition has deteriorated and caring for them has become increasingly difficult. Contemplating moving your parent into a care home can make you feel guilty and a failure. But it's important to remember that providing care for an elderly relative can be the hardest thing a person may have to do, no matter how much you love them.

  Caring for the Elderly and Seniors
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Aging in Place at Home
Bed Sores in Nursing Homes
Bed Sores in Nursing Homes
Benefits of Respite Care
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Caring for the Family Caregiver
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Doll Therapy for Dementia
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Healthy Aging and Self Care
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Help Seniors Sleep Better
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Incidence of Dementia in Africa
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Nutritious Food for Elderly
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Physical Effects of Grief
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Prepare for Aging Parents
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Prevent Falls in the Elderly
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Skincare in the Elderly
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Smart Homes for Seniors
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