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Knowing Your Options
Learn about the array of housing options available to your loved ones.

Legal Issues
Find out what legal documents your loved ones need to protect them as they age.

Thinking Ahead: Planning for Changing Needs

Multiple choice quiz: Which people are caregivers?
1. The neighbor who stops by on Saturdays to see if an older friend needs something from the grocery store.
2. A man who drives his mother-in-law regularly to the doctor and gives her $25 each month for her bills.
3. A woman in New York who calls her much older sister in Ohio every Sunday and helps her deal with financial matters and insurance paperwork.
4. A daughter who moves in to care for her mother, who is recovering from a hip fracture.

Answer: All of the above. A caregiver is anyone who provides assistance to another adult who is ill, disabled, or in need of help. The caregiver may live in the same house or nearby, or provide help from another town or state. The care involved may range from rather modest tasks, like those described in examples number one and number three above, to heavy-duty, round-the-clock care like the kind described in number four. Of course, there are many degrees in between.

A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found over 33 million caregivers in the United States assisting someone 50 years old or older.

Caregiving for family members is common. A recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP found over 33 million caregivers in the United States assisting someone 50 years old or older. Why do caregivers take on this responsibility? Probably the most common reasons are love and the desire to help someone stay in a familiar setting. Cost may also be a factor since paid care, when available, can be expensive. Some caregivers feel a sense of duty or worry that no one else will provide good enough care.

Issues Caregivers May Face Caregivers, a diverse group, vary in age, cultural background, financial situation, abilities, and length of time theyíve provided care. While each personís experience is uniqueóand a high percentage of caregivers feel positive about the experienceóthe following are common issues that many face:

  • Caregiving takes time. As a result, caregivers have less time for other family members and themselves. More than half report that their duties have caused them to give up vacations, hobbies, or other activities. A common situation is a daughter caring for aging parents as well as her children.
  • Your job and caregiving are a tough balancing act. You may often have to take your father to the doctor or talk to a social worker during work hours. As with child care, arrangements you make with paid helpers or other family members donít always work out, and your time and energy for your job may suffer. Caregivers modify their work schedules and sometimes take a leave of absence.
  • Be ready for the financial implications. The costs of products and services linked to caregiving add up. Public or private insurance policies may cover some needs, but often these policies are inadequate. For many caregivers, out-of-pocket expenses can become a challenge.
  • It can be physically and mentally stressful. This is especially true for those providing intense care for long periods. Although most caregivers donít attribute their own serious health problems to their caregiving, some say they feel frustrated, exhausted, angry, or sad.

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Plan Before a Crisis Occurs Most of us are not prepared to care for our parents. Many parents are capable of taking care of their own needs and donít want their adult children to make their decisions for them. But as parents grow older, chances are they eventually will need help. For the adult child, itís often tough to figure out how to meet those needs. Finding help in the community is a complex process and can stretch those already under time constraints when, for example, a parent gets discharged from the hospital on short notice. Consider the following steps that you can take to address you and your parentsí needs.

Do Your Homework

  • Determine housing options and preferences.
    Questions to ask: Are you able to do things around the house? Have you thought about living somewhere else? Options to consider: Staying in the current home with some changes or additional help, an assisted living or retirement community, shared housing or a nursing home.
  • Learn medical history.
    Questions to ask: Do you have any medical conditions or health problems I should know about? Who are your doctors? What medications do you take? If your parents are unclear about the details, you may want to ask if you can go with them on their next visit to the doctor.
  • Make a list of people in their personal support system and get contact information for each.
    People to consider: Close relatives, close friends, neighbors, friends from their place of worship, clergy, housing managers or apartment front-desk staff, and even the local pharmacist.
  • Create a financial profile. This information may be difficult to obtain from your parents, but it is critical to have an objective picture about money.
    Key elements: A list of income sources such as Social Security and pensions, monthly and yearly income and expenses, bank accounts and investments, and a statement of net worth.
  • Review legal needs.
    Questions to ask: What relevant legal documents do you already have or want to have (for example, wills, advance directives such as living wills and health care proxy forms, trusts, and powers of attorney)? Where do you keep important documents (for example, birth certificate, deed to home, and insurance policies)? Is your will up to date?
  • Get important account numbers in case you need them in an emergency.
    Key numbers: Social Security, financial accounts, credit cards, health insurance, driverís license, life insurance.
  • Gather information about services that can help with current or future needs.
    Services to consider: Home care, adult day-care services, home-delivered meals, and help with everyday activities.

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Donít Forget Yourself

  • Take care of your own health.
    Key steps: Eat properly, get regular exercise, and set aside some time each week to do something you enjoy.
  • Speak up when you need support or assistance.
    Key step: Ask for help from family and friends before you get to the breaking point. Knowing when to ask for help is an important awareness for all caregivers to have.
  • Find out about services that help caregivers and the older parent.
    Services to consider: Care/case management from a social service agency to help link your parents to services and benefits, adult day services, respite care that provides a break for the caregiver, and caregiver support groups both in your community and on the Internet.
  • Seek help or training to improve your caregiving or coping skills.
    Where to look: Hospitals, volunteer organizations like the Alzheimerís Association, and community service agencies are good places to look for the right training programs.

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© 2003, 2004, 2007 AARP. Reprinting by permission only.


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