November is National Family Caregivers Month – a reminder of the dire challenges that 30 percent of adults in the U.S. face who care for elderly, disabled or ailing loved ones.
If you’re one of us, a mere month doesn’t come close to recognizing the round-the-clock energy and attention you devote to your loved ones every day. Some caregiver facts: Women 45-65 years old manage 70 percent of caregiving. Ninety-one percent of those women care for one adult. Fifty-one percent perform more than 20 hours of unpaid care per week.
Caregivers juggle feeding the kids with late-evening check-ins on an elderly uncle. They’re pulled from work when mom calls an ambulance after dad takes a serious fall. They use vacation days to take grandma to doctors’ appointments. Other family members may challenge their decisions but not lift a finger to help. They know they can’t go it alone, but worry they can’t afford professional support.
Crisis control vs. future planning
Family caregivers neglect the most important person in the equation: themselves. Mind and body take back seat to another’s needs. So does perspective and a view to the future. How can one even think about retirement planning when mom’s been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s? Or when dad has just entered hospice?
My own caregiving experiences – for my mom in Florida and aunt-in-law in Boston – overwhelmed my wife and me with uncertainty, fear and stress. Four questions rolled in my head: Where do I start? What do I need? Who do I trust? Where do I go? Then we asked each other: We’re so preoccupied with our elderly loved ones. But we were in our 60s ourselves. Where and how will we live as we age? And who will take care of us?
A new approach is needed
If you’re beginning your role as caregiver, you’ll probably start with advice and referrals from your doctor, your parents’ geriatric specialist, other family members and friends. You’ll go online to search for options. I did all this; so do the majority of caregivers. I found bits and pieces, but nothing that helped me see (and manage) the entire continuum, ask the right questions and deal with the inevitable canyons in the road. Believe me, it’s an exhausting, confusing and all-consuming process.
In frustration, and with the encouragement of many family caregivers, I developed an online resource that offers families an easy-to-navigate, sequential one-stop resource for information, services, products and advice – a place to develop their own roadmap for caregiving and aging-in-place planning. The Aging in Place Essential Toolkit™, which offers free support services, a community forum and advice from life care professionals, helps people manage caregiving of a loved one and begin to plan for their own futures.
Our caregiving crisis touches everyone.
Millions of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s suddenly become caregivers when a parent, child or other loved one is injured, becomes ill or is diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening disease. If this has not happened to you yet, it will.
If you are a caregiver and find yourself overwhelmed and under-supported, you should be as frustrated and outraged as I am. We’re offering a resource to help hard-working family caregivers – many who can’t afford private pay care, yet don’t qualify for long-term help through federal or state programs. We want to help them effectively help their loved ones while preserving their own sanity, well-being and futures as the next generation of aging-in-place seniors. Let’s leverage National Family Caregiving Month to expand this conversation.
Ira Yellen has experienced the joys and difficulties of being a family caregiver first-hand. Drawing from his caregiving experiences and healthcare marketing expertise, he created the Aging in Place Essential Toolkit to help families navigate caring for elderly or disabled loved ones while planning for their own future needs. A recognized public relations and marketing communications expert, he has helped hospitals, agencies and home health industry groups develop marketing programs to inform family caregivers and recruit staff.