Tips for Family Caregivers

Sixty percent of the estimated 44 Million* caregivers in this country work full-time. In addition, they spend an average of 18 hours a week caring for an ill family member. This added part-time “job” is generally unpaid, and for many it is the hardest work they will ever do.

More often than not, one child (70% of the time a daughter) will take on the primary caregiver role. Some people may thrive in the position, while many feel overwhelmed and resentful that their siblings do not provide more help.

If you are caring for an aging parent or other relative who can no longer manage all of their medical, social, and financial needs – here are some tips to help things run a little more smoothly:

  1. Get informed about which benefits your parent(s) qualify for, either through Medicare, Medicaid, work-related benefits or community agencies.
  2. Try to sit down with your parent(s) and find out what their finances are like. Even if your parents never need substantial long-term care, it is better to know in advance what the possibilities will be rather than wait for a crisis.
  3. If your parents have purchased long-term care insurance, find out exactly what is covered – at home or in a facility – and if there are lifetime limits.
  4. If your siblings do not help enough, ask them to take on some specific responsibilities (i.e., bill paying, ordering or researching something online). Some siblings may resist helping, but some may think you have everything under control and do not need their help.
  5. If you have financial resources, look into hiring a geriatric care manager who can help you manage your parents’ care. To find one in your area, go to www.caremanager.org
  6. Some of the most emotionally trying times occur when children are called upon to make difficult medical decisions for a parent. Make sure your parents have filled out advance directives (i.e., Living Will or Health Care Proxy), and talk to them about what they would like if they were hospitalized or very ill. (For help with talking to parents about these issues see www.agingwithdignity.org/5wishes.html)
  7. Keep in mind that it is impossible to do this job perfectly! Most caregivers experience guilt that they aren’t doing enough. Many caregivers juggle work, families and caregiving duties – and no one can do it all as well as they would like.
  8. Seek out caregiver support groups through your local hospital or community agencies. Many will have phone support sessions for those who cannot leave home.
  9. Try not to neglect yourself. See your doctor regularly, particularly if you have chronic medical problems of your own.

* The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study, July 2006