For adult children with families and jobs of their own, the added stress of taking care of aging parents or other family members is a juggling act that can put emotional, physical, and financial strains on their own health and relationships. From the common cold, to depression, diabetes, and heart disease, experts say that caregivers are at higher risk for getting sick. About 72 percent skip going to their own doctors when they should. Whether it’s a sometime-ride to the senior center, ongoing in-home care, or care that’s long-distance, caregivers need to take care of themselves, in order to stay healthy and “be there” for those who need them most.
An American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) study says that there are about 40 million caregivers in the U.S. currently. And, as baby boomers age, notably, about 1 in 4 of these 40 million caregivers are millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), who care for their parents or grandparents. As with all caregivers, activities can include everything from grocery shopping, cooking, housework, and paying bills, to help with bathing, medications, and talking to doctors. But as these millennials juggle caregiving with career building, 33 percent of millennial caregivers are most likely caring for a loved one who struggles emotionally or mentally. That’s compared to 18 percent of older caregivers caring for someone with those same issues.
AARP (www.aarp.org), the Caregiver Action Network (www.caregiveraction.org), and the National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov) offer resources for all caregivers and their families coping with these day-to-day challenges, from condition-specific caregiving (like with Alzheimer’s, COPD, or depression), to how to talk to older parents, and navigate legal matters.
Here are some tips:
- Talk openly to your parents or loved one. Cover needs, roles, and types of care.
- Take care of you. Give yourself a break when you need it! Don’t forget your own health while focused on others.
- Ask for help. Seek the support of other caregivers in your own age range, and people who’ll understand what you’re going through.
- Create contact lists. Know your loved one’s clergy, doctors, drugstores, and friends.
- Are you depressed? Experts say about 40 to 70 percent of caregivers show major signs. Watch your loved one’s actions and mood, but stay tuned in to your own. If you’ve lost your appetite, or lost interest in things you enjoy; if you aren’t sleeping well (or too much); if you feel angry, hopeless, sad, or unfocused, get professional help if it lasts two weeks or more.
- Write it down. Be ready for a loved one’s doctor visit. Jot down medication info. Prepare questions ahead of time. Mention health changes that you see.
- Get organized. Have medical information and legal papers in order, anytime, and for emergencies.
Take care of you, so you can take care of those you love!
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano