While Melissa works in the garden, her mom, Judy, relaxes on the back patio.
Over dinner, Judy shares stories from her childhood. Sometimes they watch a movie together.
Becoming her mom’s caregiver has brought the two closer and given Melissa
a greater sense of purpose and an appreciation for what’s important.
Melissa is one of more than 40 million unpaid caregivers of adults 65 and older in the U.S. More than five million care for military Veterans, and nine out of ten provide care for an aging relative. Like Melissa, many caregivers feel that caring for an aging relative has helped shape who they are. Despite it being difficult work, the National Opinion Research Center found that 83% of caregivers viewed their role as a positive experience, citing a sense of giving back, personal growth, and increased purpose in life. Some caregivers believe they’re passing on a tradition of care and that by modeling caregiving, their children will be more likely to care for them someday if necessary.
Taking on caregiving duties for a loved one can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be overwhelming at times. Six in 10 caregivers juggle these responsibilities with a full or part-time job, not to mention their own family responsibilities.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. This month, we recognize the critical role family caregivers play, and we are working to empower them to take better care of themselves and find the support they need to care for their loved ones.
Family members typically take on caregiving duties little by little. They may start by stopping in to help with yard work or house cleaning once in a while and find themselves spending more and more of their free time caring for their loved one. The truth is that sometimes loved ones need more than a family member can provide. That doesn’t mean caregiving duties need to be given up all together. But by turning over some of the caregiving duties to a home care provider, family members can focus on helping with those tasks they feel most comfortable handling, and spending quality time with their loved one.
Being forgetful on occasion is a normal sign of aging. But if your loved one frequently forgets to eat or to take medication, fails to pay bills or bathe, or gets lost or confused in familiar places, he or she might be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Especially in the case of medication, caregivers should be cautious. Up to 50% of prescribed medications are “taken incorrectly, particularly with regard to timing, dosage, frequency, and duration,” according to the CDC. Missing a dose or taking the wrong dosage amount can be fatal to aging seniors. Certain medications can also cause adverse side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness, increasing fall risks.
Loss of Balance and Coordination
Navigating stairs and slippery surfaces can become more difficult with age. And while a natural decline in dexterity and balance are normal parts of aging, there are some symptoms that require a closer look. If a loved one experiences tremors, slowness of movements or limb rigidity, they may be showing signs of a debilitating disease, such as Parkinson’s. Mobility issues like these can create fall risks that could lead to serious injuries. In fact, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuryand the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions in seniors.
Unhealthy Diet or Lifestyle Choices
A healthy diet is critical, especially to those suffering from chronic symptoms such as high blood pressure or heart disease. Still, elderly people who live alone may not take the time to prepare and eat healthy, balanced meals. Caregivers who notice that a loved one is losing weight, forgetting to eat meals, or making regular unhealthy food or other lifestyle choices, such as smoking or taking drugs, should consider seeking help.
Depression or Loneliness
The changes that occur later in life, such as the death of a loved one, retirement, or serious illness, make depression more commonamong older adults. Loneliness is tied to high levels of depressionand is especially common among older adults.Caregivers can provide their loved one with companionship, solace, and both physical and emotional support. Still, it may not be enough. In fact, depression can lead to physical ailments such as heart disease and memory loss.
Taking Care of Caregivers
In addition to watching for these signs in a loved one, caregivers should also pay close attention to signs of their own which could indicate the need for additional help. Chronic headaches, low back pain, elevated blood pressure, sleep disturbances, depression and constant worrying are all signs of emotional stress that can lead to serious physical ailments. What’s more, the average caregiver of a recipient 65 years of age or older is 63 years old and one in three of these caregiversreports their own health as fair to poor.
While the role of family caregiver is incredibly important, it does not need to be taken on alone. About 50% of all caregivers get no outside assistance. But the fact is, there are resources that can help. Learning to ask for and accept that help can make the job of caregiving less stressful and more rewarding.
Supplementing family care with professional home care services allows family members to take much needed breaks and ensures that loved ones are receiving care for all six dimensions of wellness. Home care professionals can supplement this care, offering help with activities such as bathing and dressing, preparing healthful meals and ensuring medications are taken correctly. They can also serve as an additional source of companionship.
Veterans and surviving spouses of Veterans may be eligible for the Pension with Aid and Attendancebenefit, which can be used to help offset the cost of home care services. This may be especially helpful to the more than 30% of Veterancare recipients who have no health insurance or regular source of health care.
Veterans Care Coordination’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Veterans and their families. This month we’re focused on empowering family caregivers to ask for and accept much needed help so that they can better care for their aging loved ones, and for themselves. We partner with quality home care providers to help navigate the VA’s process of applying for pension funds and help to maximize VA pension funds and get care started as quickly as possible. For more information click hereor call 855-380-4400.
If you’re a home care provider interested in partnering with VCC in our mission, click here.