Welcome to Age 50: Top Caregiving Tips
What boomers celebrating a big birthday in 2014 — and others in their 50s — need to know to help their elderly parents
As the last of the boomers begin to hit the half-century mark in January, we offer 50 tips for turning 50. This completes our weeklong series; the other articles cover money, relationships, health and work and purpose.
Here are 10 caregiving tips for anyone turning 50 in 2014 (and those who are already there):
1. It takes a village. Go find one. Ninety percent of seniors, perhaps including your own parents, want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Connecting with the Village Movement is one way to fulfill that goal.
The principle is simple: Instead of leaving their homes for senior housing or assisted living, older residents in a community form a nonprofit membership organization to provide access to essential services like home-safety modifications, transportation, meal delivery, dog walking, technology training and support, health and wellness programs, social activities and the services of visiting nurses and care managers.
A village can range from a few blocks in an urban or suburban neighborhood to a rural area with a 20-mile radius. Today, there are at least 100 villages in 36 states, with dozens more in development. Most participate in the Village-to-Village (VTV) network.
2. Don't become a dictator. Taking charge of a parent’s affairs can be awkward and demoralizing, especially in stressful times such as the transition to an assisted-living facility or nursing home. We want to help simplify things — say, by tossing out old possessions that there's simply no more room to store — but that urge can lead to insensitivity and even bullying.
When people go through a major transition, like moving into a long-term care center, "it's not the setting, but the losses" that can cause the most stress, Barbara Resnick, a geriatric nurse practitioner and professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, told Next Avenue. "It's not, 'This building is awful,' as much as, 'I’m losing my home, my independence, my car, my life as it was.'" Be wary of getting so caught up in being a manager that you don't notice.
3. Find the right help to avoid sacrificing your career. That’s the advice from Amy Goyer, author of the free new e-book from AARP, Juggling Work and Caregiving, who speaks from experience. She’s one of the 42 million Americans who balance full- or part-time work with caregiving. “Too many people don’t know that help is out there because they don’t identify themselves as caregivers and so they don’t think to go looking for resources,” she says.
The first place to look for support, says Goyer, is your Human Resources department. You may be able to work out flexible hours, allowing yourself the necessary time to assist your parents.
See “What Our 42 Million Working Caregivers Need Most”
4. Put together a caregiving network. If your parents live alone and you live too far away to check in every day, you need a network of support (formal and informal) to be your eyes and ears. So the next time you're on the scene, commit some time to follow their routines and see who they interact with daily or weekly. If they have a regular bank teller or supermarket delivery person, consider giving those workers your phone number.
Your efforts don't need to be secret from your parents. "Explain that it’s for safety," says Gail Hunt, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Caregiving.
If the people in your caregiving network notice mail and newspapers piling up or if no one answers your parents’ door, they can call you or call for help.
5. Do your homework before hiring an in-home caregiver for your parents. Dr. William King, a primary care physician in Los Angeles who has helped families select caregivers, says any applicant you consider should have certification in CPR and first aid.
It’s also a good idea for you to watch the prospective worker perform all medical tasks he or she will be expected to conduct, says Next Avenue writer Kristine Kevorkian, Ph.D.
See: “How to Hire (and When to Fire) a Caregiver”
6. Know your financial limits. Nearly 10 million Americans over 50 care for parents full- or part-time, but many don't realize what it's costing them. According to Double Jeopardy for Baby Boomers Caring for Their Parents, a recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the MetLife Mature Market Institute, caregivers actually sacrifice nearly $3 trillion in total wages, pension funds and Social Security benefits. Each woman who leaves the workforce or scales back her career to care for a parent forfeits more than $324,000 in wages and Social Security benefits.
Most caregivers are thrust into the role during a crisis and have little time to consider the effect on their current and future finances, Hunt says. "In desperation, a caregiver will sometimes just quit her job," she notes, without considering the hit to her income.
If you think that caregiving may be in your future, start evaluating how you can finance it by considering the effect on your savings and your career if you’ll need to take time out from working.
7. Look for ways to cut your caregiving costs. One way to do it: see if Uncle Sam will help. If you support one or both of your parents financially, you may be able to claim them as dependents on your tax return (for 2013, each exemption reduces your taxable income by $3,900.) You may also be eligible to claim the Dependent Care Tax Credit, allowing you to write off a percentage of what you spent on day care services for your parent (as much as 35 percent of your expenses, up to $3,000).
Bob Bua, president of the CareScout business which helps Americans make eldercare decisions, has a few other suggestions that could save you thousands of dollars. One of them: Negotiate the cost of hiring a caregiver; you may be able to work out a lower rate than the one you’re quoted. Another: Don’t overpay for a home health caregiver. When you’re interviewing a potential aide, says Bua, ask if the particular type of medical help you want qualifies for a lower hourly rate.
For more money-saving tips, see “How to Save Thousands a Year on Caregiving Costs.”
8. Let technology be your friend. Tracking and monitoring devices, such as Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) and Mobile PERS generally feature GPS-tracking devices so you can locate your loved ones at any time to be sure they’re safe.
Jitterbug, known for its elderly-friendly simplified phone with oversized buttons and large type now offers the 5Star Urgent Response Service. That feature delivers immediate, 24/7 emergency assistance whenever your parent (or someone with the phone) pushes a button.
See: “For Caregivers, New Tracking Technology Offers Peace of Mind”
9. Find a transportation service, so your parents won’t have to drive. Many older adults equate surrendering their car keys to losing their independence. It can also lead to isolation. If you think your parents are unsafe to drive, look for someone or some business locally who can get them where they need to go — to doctor’s appointments, to the store or just out of their home for a bit.
Three possible alternatives: Curb-to-curb rides, which are like taxi services but whose drivers don’t help passengers get in the cars; door-to-door drivers who provide more assistance, but generally don’t help with wheelchairs due to liability concerns and door-through-door providers whose drivers offer more help, including carrying groceries.
See: “After an Elderly Parent Gives Up the Keys, What’s Next?”
10. Finally, make time to laugh. If you’re not careful, being a caregiver can increase your stress and make you depressed, exhausted and anxious. So heed the credible research recognizing the impact of humor therapy and look for opportunities to bring laughter into your life.
It could be good for your health as well as your sanity. According to Next Avenue writer Sherri Snelling, who is also founder and chief executive of the Caregiving Club, psychoimmunologist Lee Berk of the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California found that laughter increased the production and activation of antibodies and “killer” cells that attack virus and tumors.
In the Next Avenue article, "Why Laughter is Crucial for Caregivers," registered nurse and “neuro-humorist” Karyn Buxman recommends subscribing to an email or online “joke of the day” to start mornings with a laugh. It couldn’t hurt.