Do You Have to Give Up Your Life to Care For an Aging Parent?

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Increasingly, family caregiving is a topic of discussion across the country. As the population ages, there is more pressure to provide caregiving for aging parents due to a lack of other cost-effective options.

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Most caregivers are women, but more men and even millennials are becoming caregivers out of necessity. The disruption to someone’s life can be significant. Plans deferred, changes in employment and social life are common. 

You don’t have to give up your life to care for an aging parent if you have awareness of how caregiving impacts your life. Maintain a flexible attitude and a willingness to make adjustments as you move through the journey.

Caregiving Duties

As a caregiver for your parent, your responsibilities, over time, can grow in complexity. Evaluating your caregiving duties will help you identify areas where you can arrange for assistance. Family caregivers are expected to perform more and more difficult medical tasks often without training or support.  

Medical

Medical tasks are usually the responsibility of nurses, but nursing services paid by insurance are limited. As a result, more and more family caregivers have to learn to provide medical care to their loved ones.

Some medical tasks can include but are not limited to the following:

  • Setting up and dispensing medications
  • Doing blood sugar and blood pressure checks
  • Wound and skincare
  • Catheter and urinary incontinence care
  • Monitoring vitals
  • Managing pressure sores 

Activities of daily living

Activities of daily living is a broad term used to describe the routine activities we all do without assistance every day. As a caretaker, you might be tasked to do some of these following things:

  • Help with shopping, cooking, and eating
  • Assistance with bathing, dressing, and hygiene
  • Helping someone to the toilet 
  • Transferring, such as assisting someone with getting in and out of bed and chairs

Finances

Not everyone can manage their own finances. Cognitive impairment and confusion make it difficult to keep things under control and you may need to step in to protect assets. As a family caregiver, you might take on paying their bills. If your parent is too confused to pay bills on time, they may be vulnerable to exploitation.

There is also the question of estate planning, which can involve the development of a trust and a financial power of attorney. Lastly, you may end up taking on some of the costs of care if your parent is financially unable to do so.

Advocacy

Advocacy takes so many forms, you may be doing it daily without even realizing it. Advocacy can be just as time-consuming as hands-on caregiving.

You might be stepping in as an advocate in some scenarios such as: 

  • Communicating and coordinating with health care providers.
  • Attending doctor’s visits
  • Managing in-home caregivers and other medical staff
  • Providing transportation to appointments
  • Dealing with insurance companies
  • Advocating for services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy
  • Doing end-of-life planning and arranging for advance directives
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Tradeoffs of Caregiving

The tradeoffs of caregiving can be significant and fall generally into the following categories. The sacrifices you make can increase over time to the point where you haven’t realized how much you have given up.

Family

Most likely you have a family in addition to the parent you are caring for. This could include a spouse or partner, adult or young children living at home, or grandparents. Time and energy away from family can have a negative impact on those relationships.  

Caregiving is a broad term that applies to all of your family. Spouses and children get sick or have school and work problems. You may have to drop other caregiver duties to attend to your immediate family. Or, you can’t attend to your family due to your caregiving responsibilities to your parent. 

Identity

Becoming a caregiver for a parent may mean letting go of other parts of your life that had meaning and formed your self-identity. This could be work, education, volunteer work, or any other activities that define who you are.

It may not be possible to maintain the responsibilities of caregiving while still attending to the activities that help define your internal sense of purpose. Individuality is closely tied to feelings of self-worth and confidence. Your self-worth may suffer as a result.

Health

The health consequences of caregiving are well documented, as people have noted an increased risk of chronic medical problems. Some people might end up dealing with health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, fatigue, injury, and illness.

Caregiving can increase one’s stress levels, which can also lead to depression, anxiety, poor sleep, and a weaker immune system. Needless to say, it is important to keep a watchful eye on any changes to your health as a caregiver. 

Work

According to AARP, the cost attributed to family caregiving is estimated to be approximately $470 Billion. The report also states that caregivers “remain vulnerable to financial and job-related hardships as well as emotional stress.”

As a caregiver, you may have had to reduce your hours at work which means less income. In many cases, caregivers end up leaving the workforce altogether. This affects not only income but in some cases, health insurance. Returning to employment after caregiving can be very difficult and time-consuming.

Social engagement

Any caregiver will tell you how difficult it is to maintain friendships and other social interests. There just isn’t enough time, and it can be hard to explain to friends about the stress you are are going through if they haven’t experienced it.

This can leave you feeling lonely and isolated. Without the opportunity for connection, those relationships can fade away.

How to Maintain Normalcy

Maintaining normalcy in the face of caregiving for a parent can be done with an awareness of how important it is. Consider it your job to focus on you. 

Find help

Hiring help, if you can afford it, can be a time saver and stress reducer. It can be hard to give up tasks that you are best at, but giving up some of that control can be a relief.

  • Consider hiring professional caregivers to take some of the pressure off. If for nothing else, then to have some respite for yourself.
  • Hiring out household tasks like house cleaning, yard work, grocery shopping can be a huge help. 
  • Finding caregiver support groups can give you a sense of community and support.
  • Investigate opportunities for respite care for your parent. Perhaps a short stay in assisted living will give you a much-needed break and might be the starting point for a permanent move later. 

Ask family

If you are the primary caregiver, it can be easy to slip into the belief that you need to do it all yourself. Other family members are busy and have their own lives too. Think about asking for a little help and you may get the offer of more.

Even a few tasks like these are rarely an imposition but might make a big difference for you.

  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Grocery shopping
  • Precooking a few meals for delivery to your parent’s home
  • Doing some online searching for durable medical equipment, or getting educational information on conditions and caregiving techniques

Self-care

Taking care of yourself can be a priority if you make it one. Incorporating self-care ideas into your day will help you feel more grounded, rested, and focused. Here are a few to consider:

  • A few minutes of meditation and yoga each day
  • Exercise each day, as even a short walk can help with stress
  • Good sleep and nutrition
  • As hard as it might be, try to carve out time just for you. You may have a demanding parent who takes every ounce of your time and energy. It can help to realize that there is never enough time, so take some for yourself.

Financial stability

Meeting with a financial planner can help with managing current and future costs associated with caregiving. Another suggestion is to be thinking about your career, and to the extent that you can, doing what you can to keep your job. 

If you have to leave your job, plan on your return to the workforce by keeping apprised of career and educational opportunities to keep yourself engaged and involved. Staying connected with people in your field might make the transition back to work easier.

Find your passion and stay connected

If your identity has been subsumed by caregiving, do what you can to keep your passions alive and stay connected with friends and family. There may not be time to attend events with friends, but let them know you care and reach out periodically to keep those relationships alive. 

  • Keep your mind active by setting aside a little time to read or watch something online that is important to you. 
  • Zoom classes are becoming more popular and you don’t have to leave your house.
  • Consider a new hobby that you can investigate online. You might find something that ignites your passion and you can pursue at a later time when your caregiving duties have lessened. 
  • Try to designate a little time each day to something that keeps you emotionally and intellectually challenged. 

How to Decide If You’re Ready to Take Care of Your Aging Parents

Taking careful stock of your situation can help you assess whether you’re ready to take care of an aging parent or not. Caregiver duties tend to begin slowly and as your parent’s health diminishes, your duties may increase in complexity as time goes on.

Once you have started the caregiving journey, it can be hard to step back but it’s not impossible. It is far better to determine your limits early on in the process. Follow these steps to evaluate your readiness.

Assess financial flexibility for you and your aging parent

Financial stability is a broad term that encompasses employment, assets, and income. The costs of caregiving can be high. Take a close look at your financial stability by asking yourself these questions. 

  • Can you leave your employment knowing you may not return? Even if you reduce your work hours, will the financial toll be something you can withstand? Returning back to the workforce may be much more complicated than you anticipate. In addition, taking a pay cut might affect your social security. 
  • Are your parents prepared to compensate you? It is not that unusual for family members to pay other family caregivers. If this is a possibility, make certain you have a detailed contract in place with an outline of caregiving tasks.
  • Can your parents afford private caregiving? If you need caregiving help, can your parents afford to hire private caregivers to augment the care you are providing? If not, you may not want to get caught in a situation that involves more than you can handle with no viable solution.
  • If the caregiving situation becomes too much for you to handle, can your aging parents afford assisted living? Knowing that there is a reasonable backup plan is critical to agreeing to care for your aging parents. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck in a time-consuming and expensive caregiving situation with no recourse. 

Evaluate your emotional and mental health

Caregiving is stressful. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety are increasingly common, regardless of age. If you already have emotional stress, can you manage the extra responsibilities in caring for your aging parents? Be fair to yourself, and don’t let guilt or shame pressure you into doing something you know won’t be good for you and your family.

Assess your other responsibilities

Very few people take care of aging parents and have no other responsibilities. You may have a spouse, children, a job, or any number of other duties. There are only so many hours in the day, and although you may think you can do it all, look carefully at your other commitments. Caring for aging parents inevitably affects other parts of your life, which is normal, but make sure you can handle dividing your time. 

What is your support system?

Caregiving can become a lonely endeavor without the support of friends, family, and your community. Support comes in many forms, but having people you can talk to, get advice from and socialize with can keep you emotionally stable.

People who care for their aging parents can slowly start to drift away from support systems, leading to increasing isolation and stress. If your siblings live at a distance, consider the fact that you cannot call on them for caregiving relief. 

What Should You Do If You Can’t Handle Taking Care of Your Aging Parents?

Coming to terms with the inability to care for aging parents can be heart-wrenching, no matter if you’ve started the process or not. You may feel tremendous guilt and feel that you may have let your aging parents down. There is a way to handle this situation with respect and grace if you plan for the conversation carefully. 

Be honest

Be as honest as you can about the reasons you can’t handle taking care of your parents. Let them know that you love and care about them but that your other responsibilities and commitments make it impossible for you to care for them. 

Involve other family members

In most families, there is one “go-to” person who is the primary caregiver. Talk with other siblings about your decision so that they feel included and involved. You may also need to rely upon their support in communicating your decision to your parents. 

Propose alternatives

Try not to discuss with your aging parent without first having planned alternative solutions to their caregiving problem. You can be sure that they will have questions about your suggestions, so be prepared with as much information as you can. Propose these ideas and see if any seem reasonable and workable for them.

 

  • Suggest in-home caregivers. The major deterrent to hiring caregivers is the cost. But if you and/or your parents have the financial ability to hire in-home caregivers, this can be a logical and flexible solution for their caregiving needs.

 

  • Senior living. Whether it is independent or assisted, senior living can offer the kind of support and aide service your parent needs. Meals, transportation, housekeeping, activities, and medication management might be enough to keep your aging parent stable. In assisted living, aide service is flexible and can increase with an added cost. Be prepared to talk about a financial plan that will support moving to assisted living.
  • Ask other family members to help. You may have been the primary caregiver and need now to quit. Or you aren’t in a position to care for your parents at this time. Perhaps other family members would be willing to step up and help. It can’t hurt to ask, but make certain you let them know specifically what caring for your parents entails. 

Seek emotional support

If you can’t handle taking care of your aging parents and have emotional stress related to that decision, reach out to a professional. Short-term counseling can be a huge help in coming to terms with any guilt you may have, especially if your parents are angry about your decision.

Don’t Lose Yourself by Giving up Your Life

Caregiving is time-consuming and there are only so many hours in the day. Attending to your needs and wants can be a part of each day. It is important to maintain a commitment to your life and appreciate that it has value too.

If you can imagine your life as a wheel, you are the hub of that wheel. Recognize your gifts and nurture those as part of your caregiving experience. The strength you gain will help you be a better caregiver for everyone in your life. 


Sources

  1. Alder, Sarah Elizabeth. ”Family Caregivers Provide Billions of Hours of Care Annually.” AARP: Family Caregiving. 14 November 2019. aarp.org
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