Successful Aging: What you need to know about family caregivers
Q. I enjoy reading your informative column but there is one point you are missing. How about aging senior citizens in our mid- to late-60s and beyond trying to take care of parents living to their 90s and 100s? It’s taking a toll on us seniors physically, mentally and financially to deal with these parents while we have age and health issues ourselves. They are robbing us of our golden years because we still need to work to support them and we have a myriad of our own health issues. My mother at age 100 is in the hospital four hours away with a fractured hip while I am a caregiver to my 69-year old husband diagnosed with cancer. I still need to work. Your thoughts? C.K.
Thank you for sharing your challenging situation. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Lynn Friss Feinberg, AARP’s Senior Strategic and Policy Advisor, a compassionate expert on caregiving policy. I shared your story with her. She said, “You have captured what is going on in our country; family caregiving is not just a family issue. To effectively address this problem, “our country must take collective action with the private and public sectors stepping up for financial relief.”
Here is some background information.
According to a recent AARP report, “Valuing the Invaluable,” in 2017 about 41 million family caregivers in the U.S. provided about 34 billion hours of care to an adult who had some limitation in performing daily activities. The estimated economic value of their unpaid contributions was approximately $470 billion. These caregivers typically feel strained and overwhelmed and have an increased risk of chronic loneliness. Other research indicates unpaid caregivers are at risk for health issues, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Then there is the financial strain. Most family caregivers pay out-of-pocket expenses on average of $7,000 a year. For caregivers living an hour or more from their care recipient, the cost was nearly $12,00 to $12,700 per year.
Here are a few thoughts for you to consider:
Medical eligibility for 2020: Determine if your mother qualifies for Medical, a public-health insurance program that provides needed health services for low-income individuals including older adults. For counseling on this subject, consider contacting HICAP, The Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, a volunteer-supported program that helps Medicare beneficiaries make informed choices. Check the Internet for one in your area.
Respite care: Caregivers need a break. Consider asking a family member or friend to give you a weekend, an overnight or even a day that is just yours. If you are part of a faith-based community, a clergy person might be able to help you.
Be part of a Village: The Village, a nonprofit membership organization and movement, enhances the opportunity for adults to age in place and stay connected to their community. It provides volunteer services, usually from Village members that include transportation, shopping, home visits, minor household tasks and more. Members also have the opportunity to volunteer. Check the Village to Village Network at www.vtvnetwork.org for one in your area.
Paid family leave: Determine if you qualify for paid family leave. In California, you must be a caregiver for an ill family member and have paid into the State Disability Insurance program for the past five to 18 months. To file a claim, go to www.edd.ca.gov/disability/PFL_Caregivers.htm.
Build a team: Medical professionals are your first-line teammates. Reach out to friends, family and community groups to form a network of caregiving helpmates. Determine their roles. Your loved one is part of that team.
Hire a geriatric care manager: These professionals also are known as aging life care professionals and typically are licensed nurses or social workers who specialize in geriatrics. They have been referred to as a kind of “professional relative” who helps identify needs and resources to make daily life easier. See www.agingcare.com/local/Geriatric-Care-Managers.
Join a support group: Check with your local hospital, senior center and faith-based communities. For example, the caregiving support group at Torrance Memorial Medical Center offers information, nurturing and companionship to those providing care for a family member or friend.
For those reading this column and feel it is not relevant to your life, consider the quote from Rosalyn Carter. “There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who currently are caregivers. Those who will be caregivers. And those who will need a caregiver.”
C.K. Thank you for your extremely important question. Best wishes on finding the important resources and relief. Take care.