From the GIC Fall 2003 Newsletter
Nearly one out of every four households is involved in taking care of an elderly relative, according to a National Alliance of Caregiving and AARP study. If you are one of the people providing care, you know firsthand the multiple challenges involved. According to the study, most caregivers are the children of the elderly relative (usually the daughter), have children of their own, and work. Putting it all together successfully, while taking care of yourself, can seem impossible.
Care provided by family and friends would cost nearly $200 billion a year if it were provided by paid caregivers, according to the journal Health Affairs. Caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver's emotional well-being and job performance. Squeezing in an average of 20 hours per week for a period of 4.5 years to take care of an elderly relative may seem nearly impossible with other family and work obligations. Many caregivers make frequent work sacrifices, such as arriving late, leaving early, taking sick or vacation time to attend to the elderly relative. Additionally, caregivers are six times as likely to become depressed from the emotional and physical toll.
Assess Needs and Research Options
Your relative may not be eating properly, getting groceries, taking medications, paying bills, washing clothes or cleaning the house. Instead of jumping in and doing all these things for your relative, research assistance options. Contact the National Eldercare Locator to find services in your relative's community: 1-800-677-1116. If your relative lives in Massachusetts, contact the Executive Office of Elder Affairs; 1-800-AGE-INFO. If you do not live close by and can afford it, consider employing the services of an elder care manager who can assess service needs, arrange for in-home services and provide counseling and support.
When you call prospective providers to schedule an appointment, ask about the services they provide, the application process, waiting lists, fees and minimum hour requirements. Determine whether you will need to provide any documents. Gather your relative's Social Security Number, physicians' phone numbers, and insurance policy numbers. Also be sure to contact your relative's health insurance company to see what services might be covered and provider network information.
The next step is to gently discuss outside help with your relative. Accepting help can be a blow to your relative's self-esteem according to United Behavioral Health. They suggest using "I" messages, such as "I'm concerned about your safety" to deflect defensiveness. If your relative resists accepting help, try to discover the root cause of their resistance. Is it cost? Does he/she view this help as a loss of control? Are the options overwhelming? Try to address the concerns, or come back to the conversation another day. It is important that your relative understand that you cannot provide 24-hour care, and that his/her safety may be jeopardized if he/she refuses outside help. Once your relative is willing to accept outside help, schedule an appointment with the provider when you can be present to participate in determining the best plan of action.
Proactively Avoid Pitfalls
When at your relative's home, take a look around for potential dangers. If your relative has vision or mobility issues, pay particular attention to risks for falls. Install high wattage bulbs, nightlights, and light timers for better visibility. Remove throw rugs or non-sturdy furniture. Install handrails and nonskid strips in bathtubs and showers. Encourage your relative to exercise under the direction of a physician. Spend time with your relative not in the caregiver/recipient role, but instead as parent/child. These good times will help you ride the rough times of caregiving.
Take Care of Yourself
When you are a caregiver, the last thing you feel you have time for is yourself. However, this has to be your first priority. If you fail to take care of yourself, you could jeopardize your health or burnout. Schedule time for exercising and sleeping. Even a small amount of exercise every day can help you handle anxiety and stress. Pursue activities you enjoy - meeting a friend for lunch, listening to music, going to a movie, and playing a sport. Watch what you eat and drink lots of water. Seek help from others, even if your relative objects.
Take advantage of the many resources available. The Family Caregiver Alliance provides news, support groups and online consultations for caregivers. The AARP Caregivers Circle provides a chat board where caregivers can share helpful tips and strategies.
Members of the Commonwealth Indemnity Plans and Navigator by Tufts Health Plan can access United Behavioral Health's comprehensive resources (enter: 10910 as your access code).
If you are exhibiting any of the following symptoms, do not delay contacting your health plan (HMOs and HPHC) or United Behavioral Health (Indemnity and Navigator) for help: feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness, loss of interest in hobbies you once enjoyed, insomnia or oversleeping, loss of weight or overeating, decreased energy, thoughts of suicide, and/or persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment.
This information provided by the Group Insurance Commission.