Overview of Family Caregivers in the U.S.

A joint study between the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP estimated that over 34 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past 12 months. And while millions sacrifice careers and personal ambitions in order to dedicate themselves to the care of an aging parent, many others find themselves at the tipping point when they are called upon to provide at-home care for the first time.

First-Time Need for Home Care

Three things you can count on when it comes to your aging parent(s):

  1. They will be adamant about wanting to remain living at home
  2. They will hate to burden on you and their other children
  3. And because of their fierce desire for independence, they won’t be the ones to tell you they need help

That accounts for those times when the need for home care is slow in coming. In less fortunate cases, such as a cardiac incident or a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s, the need to help may hit you like a punch on the nose, requiring you to jump into immediate action (one in nine Americans age 65 have Alzheimer’s).

How Will You Know if It’s Time for Home Care?

Here are but a few of the telltale signs that may alert you that something is amiss and requires your attention:

  • There will be times when you realize that one of your parents is leaning too much on their sturdier spouse.
  • Or, that your aging parent is no longer able to perform adequately with one or more of their activities of daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, or perhaps transferring or moving about safely. They may also have become at high risk for falling, choking, or some other hazard of that nature.
  • You’re told by a neighbor or friend that your parent’s driving is dangerous, or you see a number of dents and scratches on the family car or on the garage door.
  • In yet more instances, your parent’s changes in appearance may suddenly alarm you, or perhaps how their home or yard has lost its accustomed tidiness and become cluttered.

Developing a Plan of Action

There are several elements to an effective strategy, starting with determining if it’s time to hire a caregiver.

  • Hiring a professional caregiver is simple enough. You should count on $18 to $40 an hour that a home care agency might charge: at the lower end if you live in a rural area, and at the higher end if in a large city or in higher cost of living areas.
  • Hiring a caregiver directly would naturally cost you less, but it would entail you doing what an agency does: recruit and interview many caregivers, vet them by checking references and criminal backgrounds, insuring them, and filling-in for them when they need time off, or when they simply leave you for better opportunities.
  • Before you start contacting your local home care agencies, make sure your parents are in on the plan, and establish with them what number of hours per day and per week might be ideal for a start. Not involving them in the planning may bring you unnecessary surprises when a caregiver first shows up at their door.

Two Other Critical Elements of the Plan

Assigning responsibilities: Who among the siblings and other members of the family will be responsible for:

  • Overseeing the care
  • Financial and legal matters (powers of attorney, living wills)
  • Doctors, prescriptions, and other health matters

It is prudent to count on emergency-type surprises when with aging parents, and you simply don’t want to have to designate those responsibilities at a time of crisis.

Long-term housing considerations: Is it time to sell and downsize your parents’ home? And what is the plan for their long-term housing? For example, remain at home for as long as possible, or consider moving elsewhere in the near or distant future?

Remembering not to Cause Undue Stress

Some of the decisions entailed in the above considerations can be quite traumatic for your aging parents. Put yourself in their shoes: would you like to suddenly have a stranger roaming in your kitchen and bedroom, or have to consider moving out of the home you’ve lived in for several decades?

Good counsel would have you treading gently and with utmost sensitivity while, at the same time, ensuring that your parents remain entirely involved in such momentous decision-making sessions.

Home care can be helpful in so many ways when you or a loved one need it.

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