SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS: Never treat adult parents like they are children
November 14, 2011 · Updated 4:20 PM
Hopefully, everyone who reads my column knows very well that we are an aging society. People are living longer than ever, Baby Boomers are growing older and becoming seniors, folks are living to be 100-plus and families have been having fewer children the past few generations. This places a greater burden on family caregivers who are essential in the care structure for seniors in our country.
A recent webinar sponsored by The National Council on the Aging and CareSource focused on family caregiving research. Nearly 60 percent of all family members who provide care for an aging relative also are in the workforce. Nearly 40 percent of caregivers are men. The average age of a family caregiver is 47. Most caregivers provide unpaid care to a parent or grandparent. Caregiving costs United States employers between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion in lost productivity annually. Nineteen percent of caregivers stated they made job-related changes due to unpaid family caregiving for a parent (early retirement, leaving work entirely, moved to part-time employment).
Providing care for a parent can be physically and emotionally demanding. Careproviders often put off taking care of their own health. For those with “younger” senior parents – they may find themselves in the “Sandwich Generation,” struggling to juggle the schedules of children/teenagers at home and an ailing parent’s medical appointments, paperwork and other needs.
In King County, Aging and Disability Services offers a Family Caregiver Support Program. This program helps unpaid caregivers by conducting an interview to better understand the caregivers’ current caregiving situation, sources of stress and stress level. Services may include referrals to local support groups, counseling and other resources. Training is offered on specific caregiving topics, advice on how to use supplies and equipment, practical information and caregiving suggestions, and possibly respite care, if the caregiver needs a break. Respite care is offered on a sliding fee scale. By helping to reduce family stress, the program enables care receivers to remain at home and independent. Call 1-206-448-3100 or 1-888-4ELDERS, firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been working in the aging field for 30 years. In that time, I have seen adult children caring for aging parents who do amazing things. Just as parents will turn their lives inside out and upside down for their children – so will an adult child when caring for their parents and grandparents. But nothing makes me angrier than when someone says they are “parenting their parent.” No, you are not. Our parents are deserving of respect and dignity and they are not children. Even when they are incontinent due to physical changes, or can become confused and disoriented due to Alzheimer’s Disease.
While there are a lot of stresses that come from caregiving – the list could fill this newspaper (and fill entire books) – caregiving has its benefits. Believe it or not, while we as Americans – and this generation have a fancy name for it, “caregiving” – it is just what people have done for all of life: take care of one another. For my sister, myself and our families, caring for our mother after her stroke was many things – physically demanding, heartbreaking, expensive, but, filled with moments of joy, love, quiet companionship, sharing. The little ones learned how to put on wheelchair legs, how to operate hospital beds, how to talk to her right side, because she didn’t see on her left side. It just became part of our family life; not because G-G Ma was “sick,” just because this was how she was, and their great-grandmother never missed a family event, school play, baby shower, baseball game or outing to the Puyallup Fair.
The younger generation in my family are not frightened by wrinkles (thank goodness!), wheelchairs or old age. They understand the life cycle and that someday their grandparents will be “old” and then their parents, and then themselves. We are good with this. It is what it is. Caregiving is giving care to those we love, when they need it most. There are resources available to help you and your family, in this busy time we live in while you are trying to do your best in doing that. Please contact the Enumclaw Senior Activity Center if we can help you access resources on your caregiving journey: 360-825-4741, 1350 Cole St., email@example.com.
By Jobyna Nickum, Enumclaw Senior Activity Center