One can become a family caregiver in the blink of an eye. As the #CaregivingHappens campaign illustrates, people can face a family care crisis at any moment. One can be going through a routine day, at work or running errands, and receive the call or text that requires one to switch into caregiver mode.
By raising awareness of how many people are family caregivers and how you may encounter them throughout your day, it helps to highlight the resources they need and where there are gaps in support systems. Family caregivers must not remain invisible or taken for granted.
Do you find yourself facing a family caregiving situation for the first time? Check out these 8 Rules for New Caregivers compiled by AARP.
I recently had the privilege of sharing my caregiving experience as member of Generation X on the Rodger That podcast.
Every generation faces its own unique challenges when it comes to the family caregiving experience. It’s difficult no matter what age you are! My parents were older when they had me so I faced caregiving duties a bit younger than most in my generation. Women especially are vulnerable to being forced to leave the workforce to provide family care, which has a ripple effect not only on one’s current financial situation, but also for retirement savings. This is what I now have to contend with as I’m way behind in saving for retirement, while also facing a risk that the government will not continue to fund Social Security at its current levels by the time I reach eligibility. Gen Xers on the older end of the spectrum are also reaching an age where we will face more age discrimination in the workplace. So the ability to make up lost financial ground becomes even more of a challenge.
Millennials and Gen Z members also can find themselves facing an unexpected family care crisis that requires them to derail their life plans just as they are becoming independent young professionals. Long-term caregiving situations can cause one to postpone having children or making career changes. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into just about everyone’s life, with even more people taking on caregiving responsibilities with little to no experience.
There are also positive takeaways, as some members of younger generations are embracing aging issues. From intergenerational roommate services to apps and services being developed by younger people to help improve the quality of life of our elders, there is hope that our youth will continue to embrace these noble goals as they age. It indeed takes a village.
While younger generations seem to be more open about discussing mental health issues and suicide, there doesn’t seem to be the same level of openness among older generations. According to the CDC, people aged 85 years and older have the highest rates of suicide. Middle-aged and older white men also are at increased risk of suicide.
For caregivers, suicide risk awareness not only applies to those one cares for but for the caregiver themselves. Older adults and their caregivers may be dealing with debilitating physical and mental health issues, which may cause them to also be socially isolated and lonely. As this report from Next Avenue points out, depression is not a normal part of aging. But older adults may be experiencing grief over the loss of loved ones, or worrying about financial issues or their own health problems. Loss of independence and cognitive decline can also factor into an increased risk for suicide among older adults.
Caregivers may suffer burnout while trying to care for older loved ones and raising their own families. Recent studies suggest that burnout can cause changes in the brain. Stress is linked to an increased risk of a variety of health issues. The report from Next Avenue includes a list of common depression symptoms.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Below are some resources that you can use if you are in need of help or are trying to help someone else who is experiencing a crisis. I took some suicide prevention courses earlier this year and one of the main takeaways I learned was how important it was to be direct if you feel a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts. One should ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” or a similar direct phrase. Being this direct can be challenging in certain cultures but with someone’s life potentially on the line, one needs to push through any social awkwardness.
The new national suicide prevention hotline number is 988.
Caregivers know that one of the more challenging daily tasks can be helping loved ones get dressed. Not only can it be a physical challenge for all involved, there is also the important elements of independence and dignity. For people with continence issues and those with dementia, it is essential that they have clothing that is easy to manage.
My mother struggled trying to aid my father in getting dressed and going to the bathroom in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s. He was often stubborn and didn’t want to accept help, which led to accidents and the dreaded clean-up. The only time my father was physically abusive was during one such moment, when she was trying to help him into his pajamas. He got frustrated and struck her in the jaw. I often think about others facing a similar situation each night, feeling alone and in need of help.
This is why I’m pleased to learn of the launch of CareZips Classic by Joe & Bella. This adaptive clothing line offers innovative zippers from the waist to the knees that easily open the entire pant up to make dressing, using the bathroom and cleaning up accidents easier on both the wearer and their caregiver. Its design means one does not have to fully undress to perform routine tasks.
Enter code Gift10 to receive a $10 Joe & Bella gift certificate for each pair you purchase. For every purchase you make at www.JoeAndBella.com, a portion of the proceeds is donated to frontline caregivers. Joe & Bella has already supported more than 100 care communities through their “give-back” program.
The pandemic’s impact on health goes beyond those who contracted the coronavirus. Even those who managed to avoid the infection may have suffered consequences to their health, and in an area that many take for granted.
In December, I fell while walking my dog. I slipped going down a moderate slope in the park and landed straight on my rump. The fall knocked the wind out of me for a minute, but I was fortunate not to break or sprain anything. My back was very sore and remained so for about a week. I treated it using over-the-counter pain medication and homeopathic balms. My mobility was limited and I was forced to slow down and take it easy, but fortunately I fully recovered and don’t have any lingering issues.
I’m in my late 40s and in decent health. This was a minor fall, but it reminds me that as I get older, recovery from such incidents takes longer. We often take our mobility for granted, but the pandemic may have a lingering impact on our physical conditioning, making us more prone to falls. Studies suggest that some older adults have experienced a decrease in mobility during the pandemic, The New York Times reported.
What geriatric health experts are concerned about is that decreased activity levels may result in worse physical functioning, which is key to older adults’ ability to live independently. A fall can lead to a lengthy recovery and trigger a fear of falling again, creating a vicious cycle with significant health consequences. The good news is that we can engage in simple activities that will help us reverse the impacts of our sedentary lifestyle and regain our mobility. Walking, yoga, and tai chi are all great ways to get moving and improve physical functioning.
Take inventory of your mobility and your elder loved ones and make an action plan if you desire to increase your mobility. Taking small steps now can make all the difference in keeping ourselves and our elder loved ones living independently.
As difficult as it can be to find a good nursing home and secure space for your loved one, the challenge doesn’t end there. Dementia caregivers in particular must be aware and be prepared to take action if the nursing home tries to evict your loved one.
So many people are not aware of the amount of nursing home evictions that take place each year in the US and the chaos and stress it causes families. I experienced a form of this when the skilled nursing facility where my father was placed after being discharged by the hospital said it could no longer care for him because they didn’t have staff that could provide dementia care. My father was not able to return home because he could no longer walk and my parents’ condo had stairs. My father was stranded and eventually was placed over an hour-and-a-half away from my parents’ home in the closest facility with a memory care wing.
A “lost” film from the late, great horror film director George Romero was released this month and has people talking about its contributions to ageism and how society treats its elders.
Romero is perhaps best known for the zombie classic, “Night of the Living Dead.” In the early 1970s he was commissioned by the Lutheran Society to create a PSA of sorts that would deal with ageism and society’s poor treatment of older people. The organization was displeased with Romero’s surreal yet gritty take on the subject matter, so the film was shelved until recently, where it is now streaming on Shudder.
I found the film to offer a more accurate take on what it feels like to grow old in this country than one might think at first glance. The film follows the main character as he navigates his way through a bureaucratic nightmare of an amusement park, where elders find themselves charged exorbitant prices, banned from certain rides and harassed as nuisances. There is a speech by the main character at the beginning of the film that offers this ominous line: “Remember as you watch the film, one day you will be old.”
It’s sad to say that in the decades since this film was made, we haven’t progressed that far in the way we care for our elder population. The release of this film now as we grapple with the fallout from the pandemic only reinforces the importance of elder care and how it reflects upon a society.
I’m always on the lookout for films dealing with caregiving issues, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, as well as those that offer an honest look at growing older. I came across two interesting movies this week that I want to pass along to kick off your weekend. The first is Senior Love Triangle and the second one is Ice Cream in the Cupboard.
These films offer a unique perspective and won’t be to everyone’s liking. For those who prefer to keep their movies more in the PG range with no profanity, you may want to take a pass. I found both films to be moving and thought-provoking, offering a raw yet empathetic look at the challenges that aging can present. More films are tackling topics such as aging, dementia, and family caregiving and I wholeheartedly support this trend.
Senior Love Triangleis based upon a photo book by Isadora Kosofsky. The story and moving images follow an 84-year-old man who is attempting to balance his relationships with 81-year-old Jeanie and 90-year-old Adina, with nursing homes serving as the backdrop. Dementia, other mental illness and how vulnerable seniors are preyed upon also are part of the storyline. Adult children often have a hard time with their elder loved ones finding romance in the care center environment, but this movie shows how important such affection and human connection is to older people.
Ice Cream in the Cupboardis about a middle-aged couple whose lives change forever after the wife is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in her mid-fifties. The movie is based upon a true story. I appreciated how realistically the film depicted the challenges in dementia caregiving. It never shied away from the more brutal, violent aspects and never sugarcoated what Alzheimer’s caregivers may face on their journeys. However, there is also much love and devotion on display.
Both of these movies are available on video on demand. If you’ve seen these films, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hope everyone had a good holiday and that your new year is off to a good start.
The fact that there is a caregiver shortage is not new; however a Quartz article posted this week has put the issue back on the national radar. The article cites the slowing population growth, along with increased longevity and a decrease in immigration among the issues that will potentially trigger a caregiving crisis. By 2030, that shortage may grow to more than 100,000 caregivers for the elderly, according to Quartz.
Here are some ways we could address this major healthcare issue:
Pay caregivers a livable wage: In order to recruit new generations into a caregiving career, we’re going to have to revamp the woefully inadequate pay scale. Professional caregivers deserve to have decent pay, benefits, and access to training and educational opportunities to grow in their fields. Caregiving should no longer be a job of last resort; it should be a career choice one takes pride in.
Immigration policies: We need a fair immigration policy that offers those interested in becoming U.S. citizens an opportunity for a stable career in a field with severe shortages. Too often, immigrants who become caregivers, especially those with questionable legal status, are taken advantage of and paid below minimum wage without benefits.
Offer incentives: Just like with geriatric or rural medicine, caregiving is not a “sexy” career choice. Certainly it can be rewarding, but in order to fill the large care gap we may need to get innovative. I’m a fan of the Care Corps concept, and a student loan forgiveness program in exchange for serving as a caregiver could attract candidates.
Offer better support for family caregivers: Realistically, the bulk of caregiving duties will likely continue to fall on family members. We need to support them better, by employers offering flexible work schedules and the government embracing universal family care. A tax credit would help some with the financial hit family caregivers suffer.
There is no easy fix, but we definitely need to keep pushing this topic into the general conversation and advocate for common-sense actions and programs to alleviate the caregiving shortage and burden on family members.
In my line of work I read about so many cases involving criminals preying upon the elder population. Those with dementia are particularly vulnerable. As family caregivers, be vigilant upon checking bills, bank statements, etc. There’s a fine line between allowing your elder loved one to maintain their independence and protecting them from criminals, but it’s important to be aware.
IN 2017, financial institutions filed 63,500 inquiries regarding suspected fraudulent activities involving senior clients. That’s up 400% over 2013, and may still represent 2% or less of actual crimes. Traditionally, the elderly have been victims of their own family and care-givers. Now there are concerns that they are being victimized by financial professionals they trust, […]