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How to Overcome Common Family Caregiving Struggles

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The latest population estimates and projections from UN DESA show that by 2050, one in six people will be older than 65—almost double today’s number. Part of the reason is 10,000 baby boomers a day are reaching retirement age. In the upcoming 30 years, the number of people over 80 is also set to triple, and the global life expectancy is predicted to increase by 19 years. 

We may be experiencing a longevity revolution, but studies show the older we get, the more likely we are to need some form of long-term care. Thirteen percent of those from ages 65 to 69 need regular outside assistance, while 55 percent of adults 85 and older need help. 

Sometimes we see the need coming, but other times, it happens from one day to the next, such as when a loved one falls. Even if we knew we might someday have to care for our parents, we may not have prepared for how mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding it would be. 

According to recent studies, family caretakers are six times more depressed than the national average. They also have a higher risk of suffering from obesity and chronic illnesses. If you’re a family caretaker to an aging parent, you’re not alone in your challenges. Many of the difficulties you face are shared among other family caregivers. To help your journey, we’ve listed the four most common struggles for family caregivers, and how to overcome them. 
 
 
man with tennis ball in hand

 

Struggle #1: Role Reversal

 

We’re so used to our parents being in charge and us being taken care of by them. Even as adults, we rely on them for emotional support, babysitting our children, providing wisdom and advice, and more. We may not be a kid anymore, but they’re still mom and dad. We can respect their parental authority and honor them. 

When the roles are reversed, and they can no longer take care of us—let alone themselves, it takes time to adjust. It can feel like you’re now the parent and their the child. You’re comforting them when they’re scared, making meals for them to eat, helping them get dressed in the morning, and making sure they’ve cleaned their dentures before bed.

You long for the mom and dad of yesteryears, but know that you’ve both changed. 
 

Overcoming the Struggle

 
Relationships are dynamic and always evolving. No matter what your relationship with them has morphed into, you’ll always be the child and they the parent. The connection just looks a little different now. 

Stepping into the role of a caregiver can be an excellent time to evaluate what you want your relationship with your aging parent to look like moving forward. You can plan how to establish a healthy role with them that helps both of you thrive and be the best version of yourselves. 

This can include: 

  1. Keeping conversations honest and respectful with one another.
  2. Protecting your priorities and meeting your needs by saying “no.”
  3. Avoiding secrets and creating feelings of guilt.

You may also consider taking a small step back in your caregiving duties if your loved one is still able to do things themselves. So often, we have a strong desire to help at the first sign of struggle, but allowing them to do as much as they can for themselves before stepping in helps us manage our stress while empowering our parent. It also allows us to be more of a helper than a non-stop caretaker. 
 

calculator and pen

 

Struggle #2: Paying for Long-Term Care

 
Long-term care can be incredibly expensive, ranging on average from $40,000 to over $100,000 for assisted living and private nursing home rooms. Taking a loved one to an adult day care may be cheaper, but still costs close to $20,000 per year. 

If your mom or dad want to age in place, home health aides and homemaker services for help with activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, eating, and administering medication can cost to over $65,000 a year. 

Sometimes our aging parents wouldn’t need outside help if their home was more senior-friendly. Upgrading homes for better security and mobility add up to tens of thousands of dollars with installations of walk-in tubs, wider doorways and hallways, wheelchair ramps, pullout shelves, stair lifts, and grab bars and rails.

Seniors’ limited retirement budget may not be enough to pay for these expenses, and long-term care isn’t covered under Medicare. Even if seniors have a long-term care policy, many have a minimum waiting period of 90 days before you can file a claim. Until then, you have to pay for costs yourself, and the insurance will only reimburse expenses if your loved one can’t do two activities of daily living for the full 90 days. Activities of daily living (ADL) are: 

  • Walking and moving independently
  • Eating
  • Dressing
  • Bathing or showering
  • Toileting
  • Maintaining continence

 

Overcoming the Struggle

 
Speaking with a financial advisor can calm many fears and worries about how to pay for your parent’s care. Advisors with a CFP designation are Certified Financial Planners, while those with an RICP in their title are Retirement Income Certified Planners. A financial planner with one or both certifications is uniquely poised to create a money plan suiting both you and your parent. Some options they may present include: 

 
Personal Loan

If you’re waiting to receive money from long-term care insurance while your mom or dad receives help at home, consider taking out a personal loan to pay for expenses now. Once you receive the insurance disbursement, you’ll be able to repay the loan quickly. 

 
Elderlife Bridge Loan

Another type of loan called an “Elderlife Bridge Loan” works like a line of credit where funds are sent directly to assisted living facilities and other health care facilities. It’s designed to fill in the gap while you wait for additional financial sources to come in, such as veteran benefits or a home sale. The loan is unique in that it lets up to six family members or friends share the cost of paying for your parent’s care. 

 
Reverse Mortgage

Elderlife Bridge Loans can be an alternative to reverse mortgages, another popular type of loan for paying long-term care expenses. In a reverse mortgage, the lender lets you borrow a certain amount of money based on the home’s equity. Because many seniors have homes either entirely or mostly paid off, this can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s an option as long as one homeowner remains in the home, and nothing has to be repaid until the house is sold. 

 
Long-Term Care Rider

Not every senior has long-term care insurance, but many have life insurance policies. Newer policies may have a long-term care rider that can be used for long-term care. The money used is taken from the policy’s face value, and any remaining benefit passes on to beneficiaries upon the policyholder’s death. 
 

senior at cafe

 

Struggle #3: Honoring a Parent’s Independence and Autonomy

 
You see your parent’s health concerns and want to do it all for them. You attend to their needs, make their meals, separate all their medications, tidy up their home, get their groceries, and do whatever else you think would make their lives easier. But the more you do, the unhappier they seem. 

Though you don’t want to think it, your brain presents thoughts like, “They don’t appreciate me” or, “If only they could understand I’m trying to help.” You feel frustrated, and maybe even guilty, while your aging parent sees you as overbearing and a bossy someone always telling them what to do. Elderly parents may feel like they raised you, and now you want to show them how it’s done?

Striking the perfect balance between doing too much and too little can feel like a rigged game. 
 

Overcoming the Struggle

 
Even though you have all the best intentions and do everything with a caring heart, you may unknowingly be squashing their dignity and independence. What can you do instead so that your help is seen as caring and wanted? 

Let your aging parent try to do things for themselves. So often we want to jump in when they have difficulties. But if we just allow them to continue, they would have completed the task on their own. 

They may not have done it as fast or as well as you, but to them, it’s an accomplishment that allows them to build their sense of pride. Getting older can sometimes feel like after so many years together, your body and mind are betraying you. Completing even small chores proves to them they still have control over their lives. 

If your parent is having trouble completing a task, be patient. Let them give you signals that your help is requested. Waiting until they ask for your assistance feels different than you automatically taking over or volunteering to assist. In the first scenario, the desire is coming from them. They want you to help. In the second, it can feel like you’re imposing. Aging parents are much less likely to be resistant if the desire for assistance emanates from them. 

Another option is to let your parent help with what you’re doing. If you’re making food, they can set the table. If you’re cleaning, they can do some dusting. If you’ve come home with a bag of groceries, let them store away refrigerated items. Including them in activities within their limits helps aging adults feel involved, useful, and capable. .
 

gnome

 

Struggle #4: Rude and Resistant Senior

 

Sometimes we may be too quick to help with things our parent can do themselves. Other times, they really do need our help but refuse home care even though they have mental and physical challenges. 

You see the signs, but every time it’s brought up, they insist they’re okay and retort, “I’m fine!” You try to discuss the possibility of moving to an assisted living community, but they don’t want to because “it’s full of old people.” They may even be reluctant to the idea of living intergenerationally, claiming they like their house and the privacy and independence that comes from living separately. 

Your parent’s reluctance for outside assistance may stem from not wanting to admit their health is declining. It’s also something they may not realize is happening. There could be so much going on in their brain they don’t understand anymore. It’s frightening, and they want to ignore that reality. Or, they may still feel they are fully capable of being self-reliant. Other older adults may see themselves as survivors; they’ve made it this far, so why would they need assistance now? 

So when you come in and offer to help, they rebel by making bath time difficult or impossible, refusing to eat, and making dressing to go somewhere a three-hour ordeal. If they have a cognitive impairment, it can compound their resistance as it affects their judgment and logic. 
 

Overcoming the Struggle

 

Is it Really Dementia? 

If your elderly parent is showing signs of mental decline, it’s easy to blame it on aging. But its also good to question it to make sure it’s not a side effect of a medication or something else that may be going on in the body. Symptoms of urinary tract infections can mimic dementia, and the National Institutes of Health warns many older adults are often misdiagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s because of it. Other conditions like hypothyroidism can also affect their cognitive abilities. 

If they really do have dementia, it may be helpful to assess their decision-making ability and to avoid making logical arguments. 

 
Validate Their Feelings

No matter your age, humans tend to make emotional decisions rather than decisions based on logic and reason. Even if you present the most well-spoken argument that would win over any jury, they may not agree to what you want. And that’s okay.

Relationships are emotional connections. Your mom or dad may merely want to feel like their opinions matter and that you’re listening to them. Feeling listened to and heard can lower their stress and help their brain function better. 

When both of you are feeling irritated and frustrated, it may be useful to take a step back and try to understand where their feelings are coming from, as well as invite them to share it. You can say something like, “I love you, and I want to know more about how you feel right now.” A trained relationship therapist can also show you how to handle family conversations. 

Keep in mind that sometimes, validating their feelings might mean losing that battle so you can win the war. 
 

caregiver

 

Family Caregivers Aren’t Alone in Their Struggles

 
Taking care of senior parents is hard. Even with the best information, most thoughtful approach, and the right kind of help, it can still feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. An online or local support group can give you the strength to care for your parent and show up the way you want in your relationship. It’s also a great space to ask questions and learn from others so that you can be confident of what you already know; you’re an imperfectly perfect caregiver doing the best job you can, and that’s all anyone can ever ask for. 
 
 

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