Caring for the Caregiver

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Marcy is divorced with two teenage sons. Her 81-year-old widowed father lives nearby. Over the past two years, Marcy's father has experienced major bouts of forgetfulness and depression, with increasing frailty due to arthritis and congestive heart failure. He has fallen several times during dizzy spells and sometimes forgets to take his arthritis and heart medications.

Marcy's job requires her to work significant overtime. While she needs the extra money, she recently had to refuse work because her father needed her at her home, where he was recuperating after a fall. During his three-week stay, Marcy realized how difficult it would be to have her father and sons living with her in her small, two-bedroom house.

Her father is back in his own home now, but Marcy feels guilty and is concerned about leaving him alone. She calls several times a day and stops in to check on him before and after work. Now the calls and visits are creating problems at work and at home with her sons. Marcy is exhausted from trying to balance everyone's needs, and feels alone.

While Marcy is a fictional character, growing numbers of adult children can relate to the situation described here. Perhaps you are caring for one of the 7.3 million older people - parents, relatives and friends - in this country who now need help with their daily activities.

A few statistics set the scene. Life expectancy at birth in the United States rose to 76.1 years in 1996, passing the record of 75.8 years in 1992. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the "oldest old" - those aged 85 and older - were one of the fastest growing age groups between 1990 and 1995. The numbers help explain why a 1997 survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons found that in some 22.4 million homes in the United States - nearly a quarter of U.S. households - someone was caring for an older relative or friend.

What are these caregivers doing? Typically, they spend 18 hours a week taking the person they care for to doctors, managing the elder's finances, helping with grocery shopping and providing hands-on personal care. Two-thirds of the caretakers also are employed. Of these, slightly more than half have had to make workplace accommodations - such as coming in late, leaving early, dropping back to part-time work or even passing up promotions - to provide eldercare.

Previous articles in the A/PACT series addressed issues surrounding the needs of older people. What about you - the caregiver - stretched by the conflicting demands of jobs, families and caregiving? How can you find - and keep - that crucial balance that lets you help others without neglecting yourself? It's not easy, but help is available and the range and variety of support is growing.

If you work for a large company, chances are that your employer can be a good resource. Many corporations now are training line supervisors, human resources staff and employee assistance professionals to help employees find the resources they need to cope with caregiving. Small and mid-sized companies may not yet have eldercare programs in place. If your company does not provide services, consider talking with the personnel department about your needs.

Services that companies can provide to help their caregiver employees include flextime and telecommuting options, lunchtime seminars, counseling, support groups and information and referral services. In addition, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, companies with more than 50 employees must grant employees unpaid leave to care for a sick family member.

For More Information

Working or not, caregivers can take advantage of the vast array of information available for caregivers and care recipients, including caregiver newsletters such as the Caregiving Newsletter, Caring and Today's Caregiver.

Supportive groups include the National Family Caregivers Association and Children of Aging Parents. Some organizations have local chapters with support groups; others are available through hospitals, adult day-care centers and area agencies on aging.

Books and videos include: How to Care for Your Aging Parents by Virginia Morris, Baby Boomer's Guide to Caring for Aging Parents by Bart Astor, and Survival Tips for New Caregivers, a video available from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) at P.O. Box 51040, Washington, DC 20091. Enclose a check for $4.00, payable to AARP.

On the Internet, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org) and the caregiving chat room sponsored by AARP (www.aarp.org). These sites offer tips and an opportunity to share experiences.

You also can contact the following organizations for additional information:

National Family Caregivers Association 10605 Concord Street, Suite 501 Kensington, MD 20895-2505 (301) 942-6430; (800) 896 3650; fax: (301) 942-2302

Children of Aging Parents Woodbourne Office Campus Suite 302-A 1609 Woodbourne Road Levittown, PA 19057 (215) 945-6900

National Alliance for Caregiving Montgomery Building 4720 Montgomery Lane Bethesda, MD 20814-5320 (301) 718-8444

Well Spouse Foundation P.O. Box 801 New York, NY 10023 (212) 644-1241

The Foundation provides referrals to support group of partners of the chronically ill.

Family Caregiver Alliance 425 Bush Street, Suite 500 San Francisco, CA 94108 (415) 434-3388

The Alliance provides resources primarily for California residents.

Alzheimer's Association National Headquarters 919 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000 Chicago, IL 60611-1676 (800) 272-3900

Eldercare Locator Service (800) 677-1116

Prepared by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the National Family Caregivers Association

Filed under Elder Law by  #

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