Caregiving Tips for Baby Boomers

5 Tips for Decreasing the Cost of Caring for Elderly Parents

Roz Jones

Over 30 million Baby Boomers provide countless hours of assistance to elderly parents at no charge. It is estimated that, using average hourly wages, the total amount of this uncompensated care is comparable to the entire Medicare budget. For the estimated 7 million Boomers who provide long distance care, actual out of pocket expenses amount to almost $5,000 per month. For caregivers who have, or are considering leaving the workforce to care for an ailing parent, the costs are even greater over $650,000 in forfeited salaries, benefits and pensions.

This stark economic reality shows only one dimension of the price caregivers pay for this act of love.

Caregivers pay with losses that extend well beyond their bank accounts. They often forego the activities that bring joy and richness to their lives, like meeting friends for dinner, or going out to the movies or taking family vacations. They pay with their time, the loss of professional opportunities and the erosion of personal relationships that result in isolation.

Sometimes, otherwise healthy loved ones need a short dose of care as they recover from an acute medical episode like a broken leg. Usually loved ones are on a path of steady decline with cascading assistance needs. Some caregivers sacrifice large chunks of their own lives as they help their parents and other family members and friends peacefully make their transitions. Caregivers can pay with their own health and well-being. In fact, we have evidence that some caregivers pay for their acts of care with their very lives.

You can decrease the personal and economic costs of caregiving. This means proactive planning rather than reactive responding. Planning saves money. You know this as you reflect upon your experiences of going to the grocery store with and without a shopping list. Planning also minimizes personal wear and tear and decreases stress. You will feel much better when you know your options and develop back-up plans before you jump into a challenging project.

5 Tips to Decrease the Cost of Caregiving:

1. Begin the conversation today. We have tremendous cultural resistance to the recognition of aging, disability and death. Just as the first few steps uphill are the hardest, so, too, you may meet the greatest resistance simply starting the conversation about their possible need for care. Say today, Mom and Dad, it would be great if you lived forever, but the discovery for the fountain of youth is nowhere on the horizon. What thoughts and plans do you have about enjoying your golden years?

2. Create a plan. Talk with your parents about their ideal plan if they are no longer able to care for themselves. Then, start to work toward that proactively. Investigate long-term care insurance. Draw up the appropriate legal documents. Find out who would make medical choices if they were not able to make them on their own, along with some guiding principles for the choices. You can anticipate and limit parental resistance by saying, Mom and Dad, I just got back from the lawyers office signing my will and durable medical power of attorney. I’ve asked Mitch to make my medical choices if I cannot make them myself. Just so you know, if I were in vegetative state, I wouldn’t want to be maintained on a machine. You probably already planned ahead too, right?

3. Use personal and community resources. Make caregiving a family job to which each member contributes. Even children can make grandmas life special with drawings and phone calls. Identify services that make your job as a caregiver easier. If you and your parents live in the same community, check with friends and neighbors and local organizations to learn about services and resources that will make your job easier. You say, Mom has just moved in with us, and she wants to find a card game with the girls. Do you know of any senior centers that have social events? How about transportation?

Were a mobile society and millions of caregivers live more than an hour away from their parents? Executive William Gillis learned from his own personal experience how challenging it is to identify community resources from afar. As he was carving the path that ultimately led his on-line portfolio management service, he became the caregiver for his father. Talk about mixed emotions! Professionally, he was introducing a service that let millions manage their investments with one click of a computer mouse. Personally, he was investing untold hours just to find one bit of information to help his dad.

As with so many innovators, he used his personal and professional experience to launch Parent Care, a service that he wished would have made his life as a caregiver-at-a-distance easier.

4. Gather cost-savings tips. This might mean something as simple as ordering generic medication or regularly inquiring about senior discounts. But, most cost savings opportunities aren’t as obvious. Mr. Gillis found, for example, that some states will pay for phones for hearing, visually or mobility limited seniors or fund home safety improvements. He said, we’ve invested heavily to locate time and money saving resources that most would have difficulty finding. I made it a personal mission to help other caregivers avoid some of the costs and frustration I encountered. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Tap into the resources others have collected.

5. Take care of yourself. You will be able to provide the best care as a caregiver when you’re at your best. Get good nutrition, enough sleep and regular exercise. Manage your stress and do a little something every day to nurture your soul. Understand that you are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, and weakening your immune system. Talk to your doctor if you see worrisome signs such as problems sleeping, changes in appetite or loss of interest in activities you enjoy.

Despite the costs, most caregivers say that they received much more than they gave. Most say they would do it again, and many do.

Sometimes the question is not the personal cost of caregiving; it’s the value that you bring to the lives of others that matter at the end. What personal cost are you willing to pay for the privilege of helping those who welcomed you into the world to enjoy their golden years and travel the road of illness with love and dignity?

Guilt Helps Nobody

Roz Jones

If the job of being a caregiver only involved giving help to your aging parent such as doing the dishes and helping fill out the Medicare paperwork, your life would be considerably easier.  And if that were the case, even if there was a lot to do, the problem of caregiver burn out would not be such an issue.

But the real drain on you and even on the senior citizen you are taking care of comes in the emotional toll that the care giving relationship brings with it.  Because the “assumed understanding” of the care giving relationship is based on the extended giving of a very large favor, guilt becomes a common element in every aspect of the time you spend with your aging parent.

It’s very easy for the senior citizen to feel guilty for asking you for the work you do to take care of him.  It’s a strange situation because in most cases, they never asked.  You may have stepped in because you saw your parent’s life beginning to unravel and you knew that someone had to help get his retired life organized.  And yet, the senior citizen feels a lot of guilt because you are giving him huge amounts of time and that is time away form your family and maybe your work to do things for him unpaid and very often without thanks.

It doesn’t help that the time of transition from independence to assisted care is one of huge loss of self esteem for your aging parent.  There are a lot of tremendous changes that happen in rapid order for y our parent and they happen in areas of life that have remained unchanged for decades.  If inside of a year your mom or dad go through a loss of their home to go live in an assisted living facility, loss of mobility because they cannot drive and loss of independence because everything is being done for them, that causes a lot of negative emotions.  Guilt makes its appearance because they feel irrationally that if they had not grown old, this would never have happened.

But guilt also is an issue for you, the caregiver.  There always seems to be something more you could be doing for your parents.  It doesn’t help that the senior citizen you work so hard to care for also inflicts guilt on you by whining, “I wish you never had to go home” or by complaining about their lives and getting angry. 

So what can be done about all of this guilt?  Guilt doesn’t make the relationship better and it doesn’t improve the quality of life for the caregiver or from the senior being cared for.  So whatever we can do to shut it down would be a positive step for both parties.

Probably the most proactive thing you can do about guilt is confront it directly.  Sit down with your aging mom or dad and get those guilt feelings out in the open.  It’s not their fault they got old.  Your parent should not feel guilty about being cared for by you.  After all they cared for you for decades when you were just a child and young adult. 

But taking the teeth out of guilt, you have a real chance of getting that out of your relationship.  By learning not to put guilt on each other, you become a team in care giving, not combatants.  And these are positive steps toward a healthy senior citizen and caregiver relationship.

Ease into Caregiving

Roz Jones

There is one axiom that if your parents don’t pass away young in life, you are going to watch them age.  Now for the most part, this is a natural and nice part of life because mom and dad can slowly become grandma and grandpa which are nice roles for them after working so hard to raise you.

But a corollary to that axiom is that if mom and dad are going to age, at some point you are going to begin helping them with the daily affairs of life.  And that occasional helping will escalate as their needs grow strong until you will become a full-fledged caregiver for an elderly person.

For many, the time when you suddenly become a caregiver is just that – sudden.  It happens often after the death of a parent and the widowed parent suddenly becomes needy because of the loss they are experiencing.  For married couples who have been together for decades, that loss is equivalent to the loss of a limb and far more devastating so that may be the time when you suddenly go from having few concerns for your aging parent to having many.

It might be strange to look at it this way, but the more you can ease into care giving, the more time you have to get used to it, for your elderly parent or parents to get used and for your family, forefends and coworkers to get used to it.  And if you can step in and make some minor changes to the environment of your aging parent, you may be able to delay the time when they become very dependent on you. 

If your parent or parents are still living in their own home, there are things you can do to make their living space more accessible and safe including…

  • Create a lifestyle that is all on one level.  Stairs can become a hazard for an elderly person.  So early in your plans to adapt their living space, move them into a ground floor bedroom and put all significant rooms, including the kitchen, the pantry, the laundry room and the living room are on the same level. 
  • Take some of the work out of daily chores.  Most local grocery stores will deliver food to the elderly so you can make those arrangements for your aging parent.  You can also find services that work by the hour that come in and clean the house, do simple repairs and chores and take care of the business of home ownership for your parents.
  • You can make arrangements with home  health care professionals to drop by for an hour or two a week just to make sure your parents medications are still safe to use, that all prescriptions have been filled and that your parent understands their medications and when and how to take them.
  • Reorganize the kitchen so things your parent will use every day are on an eye level shelf and are easy to get to and to put away after washing.  Make sure the toaster oven, microwave and other important appliances are also easy to get to and that your parent is comfortable with these units if the models that may have come with the assisted living center are not familiar to them.
  • Go through the house and make it easy for your parent to use.  You can put in those walking and grab bars along the halls and in the bathtub and other places where your mom or dad might need the additional support.  You can check the lights so there are plenty of visibility for what your parents have to do.

To really take the preparation of your parent’s living space for their ease of use and safety, look at pulling emergency pull ropes in every room.  These units are used extensively in assisted care units and they make it possible for your parent to pull that cord if she is in trouble and set off an alarm or call to you or to emergency care, should there be a sudden medical need.

By working to make your parent’s work area easy to use and safe, you can do a lot to put off the time when your mom or dad may have to move to a retirement village or nursing home.  And you keep them independent which allows you to slowly ease into care giving which is much easier on everybody.

Taking Care of Yourself is Part of the Job

Roz Jones

The job of becoming the primary caregiver for your aging parent is universally recognized as one of the most difficult transitions we will go through.  To start with, it’s hard to go through the reversal of parent and child.  All your life, mom or dad were the strong ones.  They were the ones you ran to for help and who were always there to tell you, “It’s ok. Everything will be all right.”

But now as your parent ages and you have to witness their demise mentally and physically, you realize that everything may not be all right especially if your parent is going through a slow decline of a terminal illness.  When the only outcome of what you are dealing with in your parent’s life is death, that makes it tough to stay upbeat, creative and proactive about how to handle life’s daily challenges.

The task of caring for an elderly parent is overwhelming.  You have concerns about their finances, their medications, the progress of their disease if they are battling something terminal, their mental state, their diet and their emotional state as well.  It’s easy to begin to “hover” your senior citizen in an emotional attempt to block any more harm coming to him or her.  This is a parenting instinct and one that your dad and mom probably won’t resist because they want to be cared for.

You feel the anxiety of your parent and the fears they face as the months and years ahead hold uncertain dangers and a certain outcome.  So there is an instinct in caregivers to give 100% of your time, your energy and your resources to caring for that elderly loved one. 

The problem is that you, the caregiver do have other obligations other than caring for your loved one.  You may have a job, a family and your own health and upkeep to think about.  So it’s a good idea for you the caregiver, the family of caregivers and event he one being cared for to keep your eyes open for caregiver burnout to help the one who is trying so hard to take care of Grandma or Grandpa to also take care of themselves a little bit so they will last a lot longer.

Underlying much of the intensity of effort many caregivers put out to help their aging or align parents is guilt.  Guilt can be a powerful force that feeds on itself in an unhealthy way.  The outcome is not only does the primary caregiver feel guilty that mom or dad are even having to go through age related illness, they feel guilty for any time they take for themselves or to care for their own needs or the needs of their family.

Caregiver burnout can result in decline in health in the caregiver and eventually may lead to changes in attitude about the task of care giving and in some cases a nervous breakdown.   Symptoms include poor sleep and eating habits in the caregiver, a possible increase in drinking to help “settle the nerves” and an inability to think about anything else than what mom or dad needs.

If you see these symptoms in yourself or someone you know and care about who may be suffering from caregiver burnout, act fast to get them some help.  They need to realize that taking care of themselves is part of the task of caring for their aging parents.  It may even be a situation that calls for a talk with the caregiver along with the one being cared for.  If that senior citizen can see that they need to encourage their caregiver to go be with family, get some rest, see a movie and forget the responsibilities of care giving for a while, that respite from the stress can do a world of good for that important person in their lives.

Caring for the Caregiver

Caring for the Caregiver

Roz Jones

The relationship between an elderly person and his or her caregiver is complex and intense sometimes.  But that relationship does not exist in a vacuum.  There are a lot of people affected by what is going on when that caregiver goes to that senior citizens apartment and give to him or her that one on one attention that is so necessary. 

For one thing, the caregiver’s friends, family and coworkers are affected.  Becoming the primary person responsible for the care and well being of a senior citizen is a peculiar job because it is tremendously demanding and completely unpaid.  Caregivers are for the most part children or close relatives of the senior citizen being cared for and they have jobs, families and a full life outside of the time they put in taking care of their parent or parents.

So when that responsibility falls to you, those around you also have to give a little to help you accomplish that goal.  But for those who are related to a caregiver, there is a demand on you as well.  If mom has to go over to Grandpa’s apartment every night for two or three hours, that means mom isn’t home helping you with your homework, making supper or just being available if her little girl needs someone to talk to.

If dad is gone thirty or forty hours a week taking care of Grandpa, that is time he is not home providing guidance for his kids, fixing the garbage disposal or making those corny but fun jokes the kids groan about but love.  Similarly, the friends and working world of a caregiver are also asked to give up a little or a lot of the mind, the emotions and the time of that caregiver so he or she can go and care for that elderly parent and divert that energy and time in that direction.

For those of us who have a caregiver in our family or part of our social or work circle, in addition to the sacrifices, you can become concerned for your friend or loved one because of the demands of caring for a senior citizen.  It’s a job that is taxing to even the strongest adult and one that take a lot out of your friend or family member.  Caregiver burn out is a common syndrome and it doesn’t just affect the caregiver.  If your parent, spouse, coworker or friend undergoes a break down from the stress of caring for her mom or dad, that will have an impact on everyone.

So there is a compelling need for all of us associated with a caregiver to learn to care for that caregiver to help her and support her in what she is doing. Some specific things you can do are…

  • Let them know you believe in what they are doing.  Caregivers often feel very alone and guilty that they are not attending to family and other relationships.  By letting her know you are 100% behind what she is doing and that you are doing fine, that guilt is removed which makes her know she can make it.
  • Let her know she is missed. 
  • Pick up the slack.  Each evening if dad and the kids can pick up the house, then mom can get some sleep and know that you are taking care of business at home so she doesn’t have to worry about it.
  • Let mom sleep in.  Maybe even bring her breakfast in bed every so often.
  • Pitch in.  Go over and help grandma out yourself so it’s not all on mom.
  • An unexpected surprise. Every so often do something to surprise and totally delight mom and give her a fun break from her worries of care giving.  A movie out or a limo ride around town can go a long way for a weary caregiver.

If the spouse, the children and friends and associates of the coworker can keep and eye on her to look out for those signs of burn out, it may be our responsibility to jump in and give her some support before everything falls apart.  By caring for the caregiver, she is better able to give attention to that senior citizen she is caring for.  So in a way we are all becoming part of the effort to give the caregiver’s mom or dad the best care possible.  And that is what community is all about.

More and more businesses are facing a challenge and some decisions to be made.  As the baby boom generation moves into retirement years and becomes elderly, the workers that make your business function so efficiently are going to have the additional demands placed on them of becoming the primary caregiver for an aging parent. 

It’s easy to just shrug at this need in your employee population but just as the demands of parenting can have a huge impact on the workplace, the personal needs of your employees to take care of their aging parents will have an impact on the office and the productivity of your business.

Business can no longer be cavalier and declare, “Well they can just quit and we can find new employees.”  The brutal truth is that skilled, trained and mature employees don’t, as they day, grow on trees.  With the work force shrinking, it’s foolish to think that if you have a solid and hard working employee who knows his job and does good work for your business, that employee can’t just be replaced with a kid right out of school.

The cost to your business can be devastating if you have a policy of running off good, hard working and smart employees because they are becoming caregivers in their personal lives and replacing them with younger, unskilled employees who are less informed about the ways of business.  The costs of training and the learning curve of the job alone will easily be more than any costs of accommodating existing employees.  Moreover, you cannot just replace judgment, relationships, market savvy and wisdom which many of the employees in the age bracket bring to your business.

So how do you accommodate the needs of this new group of caregivers who are beginning to become a regular part of your workforce?  The first step is to understand what they are going through.  These people are going to take care of their loved ones whether you are aware of it or not.  So if you can partner with them to make them successful at home, they will work extra hard to make you successful in the marketplace.

Start with some seminars and brown bag lunches where people can come and share the demands they are going through as caregivers for elderly parents or loved ones.  Invite everyone to these lunches because there will be many in your business who know that is coming up for them and want to learn all they can about what is ahead.  By making an open discussion of elderly care issues part of the discussion at work, you are communicating that you want to help and not hinder what your employees are facing.  And that will endear you to them and get you the reputation of being one of those “good employers” in town.

Not all employees who are caregivers will need accommodation all the time.  If their parent’s needs are not that demanding, it will be more of an emotional adjustment than a demand on the schedule.  But encourage each employee who is entering into a time of being the primary caregiver for their parent to communicate that to you both through meetings with the Human Resource department and to their boss as well. 

There is a practical side to getting inside of what is going on with your employees.  To your workers, they see you as family and feel more bonded to the workplace because you are concerned about their parents.  But for you, the business will know in detail what is going on with that situation so you can anticipate if that worker will see sudden interruption come up at work and adjust schedules accordingly.

Be sensitive and be communicative with your employees and you can truly become their partner in dealing with this tough part of their lives.  And in doing so, they will feel that you support them and their loyalty to the company will skyrocket.  That loyalty will translate into better productivity and longevity in your workforce.  That stability translates into a more efficient organization which is a more profitable organization.  So in the long run, partnering with your caregivers in the workplace just makes good business sense.

Senior Citizens Bill of Rights

Sometimes when you and your elderly parent are partnering for their care, it seems like an “us against the world” situation.  But since the senior citizen you are caring for has little fight left in them, it seems it’s up to you to make sure that your elderly mom or dad get all they have coming.  Just because a person becomes a senior citizen, that doesn’t mean their fundamental rights go away.  They deserve and should expect to be treated with respect and for those serving them to live up to expectations.

But just as it was before your parent became a senior citizen, a right must be claimed to be a right.  So while there is no formal “Senior Citizens Bill of Rights”, there are laws on the books about how nursing homes must treat senior citizens.  And even if your mom or dad is in an assisted care facility and not a nursing home, there are some basic expectations that were in that contract and that are fundamentally assumed that the facility will live up to.  And its up to you as the caregiver to make sure they are living up to what is expected of them.

First of all, the facility your senior citizen lives at should be reliable to provide the basics of safety and cleanliness.  Look at the evacuation plan for the facility in the event of a fire or another emergency that would mean getting your parent out of the building.  Is it a plan that is clear and is it workable considering the entire facility is full of elderly people who may not move very quickly?  And what about emergency power?  In the event of an emergency where the power goes off early, is there emergency backup power to operate elevators and automatic doors so everyone can get out?

If the facility offers food service as part of their package of services and if there is a charge for that service, there is a basic expectation that there will be meals made available three times a day, that it will be healthy food and that your parent will never be denied service.  It is also not out of line to expect that the food could be delivered to the senior citizens rooms if your parent is ill or injured.  And your parent should be able to get some variety in their diet.   If they are not doing a good job of making foods that your parents like to eat, they shouldn’t be making that additional charge for food service.

As we mentioned earlier, your parent didn’t lose his or her rights as an individual when they move into an assisted care facility.  If your parent is paying to use that apartment, they have a right to live as they please in there.  Within certain constraints because they are in a community setting such as keeping noise down after bedtime and the like, your parent should be able to do what he or she wants to do in the privacy of their home without the interference from others in the community or from the staff of the complex.  This includes receiving guests, allowing family or friends to sleep over, how the apartment is decorated and what kind of music your parent enjoys.

A right that really cannot be detailed but can be felt dramatically is your parent’s right to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.  This is an intangible but how the staff of the facility treat the resident’s means a lot to your parent when they see these people every day.  Its not out of line to expect the staff and management of the facility to know your parents’ names and greet them warmly when they come down to eat or go to a social event. 

If the staff of the facility have to work directly with your parent, it should be done respectfully and pleasantly.  If your parent reports verbal or emotional abuse going on by the staff, that is cause for you to investigate it and hold that facility to accountability for that problem. 

Remember the old saying that the squeaking wheel gets the oil.   So if the facility needs to be reminded of their responsibilities, you be that squeaky wheel.  Squeak loud and squeak often so your parent can live in a place where they enjoy their days and feel that this is a place they can genuinely call home.

Caregivers and The Workplace

Roz Jones

More and more businesses are facing a challenge and some decisions to be made.  As the baby boom generation moves into retirement years and becomes elderly, the workers that make your business function so efficiently are going to have the additional demands placed on them of becoming the primary caregiver for an aging parent. 

It’s easy to just shrug at this need in your employee population but just as the demands of parenting can have a huge impact on the workplace, the personal needs of your employees to take care of their aging parents will have an impact on the office and the productivity of your business.

Business can no longer be cavalier and declare, “Well they can just quit and we can find new employees.”  The brutal truth is that skilled, trained and mature employees don’t, as they day, grow on trees.  With the work force shrinking, it’s foolish to think that if you have a solid and hard working employee who knows his job and does good work for your business, that employee can’t just be replaced with a kid right out of school.

The cost to your business can be devastating if you have a policy of running off good, hard working and smart employees because they are becoming caregivers in their personal lives and replacing them with younger, unskilled employees who are less informed about the ways of business.  The costs of training and the learning curve of the job alone will easily be more than any costs of accommodating existing employees.  Moreover, you cannot just replace judgment, relationships, market savvy and wisdom which many of the employees in the age bracket bring to your business.

So how do you accommodate the needs of this new group of caregivers who are beginning to become a regular part of your workforce?  The first step is to understand what they are going through.  These people are going to take care of their loved ones whether you are aware of it or not.  So if you can partner with them to make them successful at home, they will work extra hard to make you successful in the marketplace.

Start with some seminars and brown bag lunches where people can come and share the demands they are going through as caregivers for elderly parents or loved ones.  Invite everyone to these lunches because there will be many in your business who know that is coming up for them and want to learn all they can about what is ahead.  By making an open discussion of elderly care issues part of the discussion at work, you are communicating that you want to help and not hinder what your employees are facing.  And that will endear you to them and get you the reputation of being one of those “good employers” in town.

Not all employees who are caregivers will need accommodation all the time.  If their parent’s needs are not that demanding, it will be more of an emotional adjustment than a demand on the schedule.  But encourage each employee who is entering into a time of being the primary caregiver for their parent to communicate that to you both through meetings with the Human Resource department and to their boss as well. 

There is a practical side to getting inside of what is going on with your employees.  To your workers, they see you as family and feel more bonded to the workplace because you are concerned about their parents.  But for you, the business will know in detail what is going on with that situation so you can anticipate if that worker will see sudden interruption come up at work and adjust schedules accordingly.

Be sensitive and be communicative with your employees and you can truly become their partner in dealing with this tough part of their lives.  And in doing so, they will feel that you support them and their loyalty to the company will skyrocket.  That loyalty will translate into better productivity and longevity in your workforce.  That stability translates into a more efficient organization which is a more profitable organization.  So in the long run, partnering with your caregivers in the workplace just makes good business sense.