Caring for Elderly Parents: 5 Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

By Roz Jones

Joanne’s mother, Betty, had rheumatoid arthritis for years.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, Betty was disabled by the pain, fatigue and limited mobility that she had feared since her diagnosis.  

Joanne convinced her fiercely independent mother that living alone was no longer an option.  And Joanne, the eldest of four children, knew that caring for her sick mother fell on her shoulders.  Joanne was a legend in the circles of her family, friends and colleagues for her ability to act with grace under pressure.

Joanne took two weeks of vacation from her job and cooked and froze meals for her husband and three children.  As she flew to her hometown, she wondered how she would coordinate her mother’s care from a distance. Supporting her husband as he built his new business, nurturing her kids and directing a major project at work already made her feel that she was running on empty.  

You may relate to Joanne’s story.  One out of four Americans cares for a friend or relative who is sick, disabled or frail. That’s 46 million Americans who offer unpaid help to a loved one.  If they were paid caregivers’ compensation would exceed last year’s Medicare budget! And if you become a caregiver, you, like Joanne, may try to do it alone, shrouded in secrecy. 

Solo caregiving compromises your ability to nurture yourself and others. Let’s take caregiving out from behind closed doors.  For your sake and the sake of those who count on you, please get some help. Caregivers are competent people who feel that they should be able to do this job.  Yet, many soon find themselves unprepared and ill-equipped to manage the sometimes daunting tasks, such as managing a complex medical regimen or remodeling a house so it’s wheel-chair accessible or even finding someone to stay with their loved ones so they can go out to a movie without worrying their relatives will fall on the way to the fridge.

If you are a caregiver, you know that this act of love has its costs.  You stand to forfeit up to $650,000 in lost wages, pension and social security.  Add to that is the personal cost to your well-being, as your new demands leave you less time for your family and friends.  You may give up vacations, hobbies and social activities.  Finally, caregiving places a burden on your health.  Caregivers are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, depressed immune function and even hospitalization.

Instead of reaching out, caregivers become isolated.  Many who assume the caregiving burden fit the profile of the giving family member, like Joanne, who does not want to trouble others with their problems.  Some fear the consequences of disclosing their new demands to coworkers or employers. Caregivers are further challenged by the cultural conspiracy of silence.  Our youth-centered society turns a blind eye to the unpleasant and inevitable reality that all of us age and die.  This leaves both caregivers and care recipients unprepared.  Look no further than the path of Hurricane Katrina to witness the consequences of a lack of planning.

What can you do?   Start talking about the “what ifs” and make a plan.  

1. Start with yourself. What will happen to you and your family if you become disabled or die unexpectedly?  Do you have disability insurance? Do you have a will?  Do you have a living will, and have you identified the person who will make the medical choices you would make if you are not in the position to do so?  

2. Approach healthy family members.  Say, “I hope that you live many happy years in which you enjoy all of the pleasures you worked so hard to create.”  Have you thought about what would happen to you in the event that you cannot live independently anymore?  If some medical event befalls you, who would make your medical choices?

3. Look into community resources that support caregiving.  A day program, for example, helps your loved one by providing social connections with peers.  Your community may even offer transportation to and from the program.  Getting out of the house offers the additional benefit of getting bodies moving.  Socializing and exercise are the two most powerful interventions that help your loved ones stay at their best.  

4. Make specific suggestions to friends, family members and neighbors who want to help. You may even want to keep a “help list.” When they say, “Let me know what I can do,” you have a response:  “Could you take Mom to her physical therapy appointment this week?”  “When you’re at the store, could you pick up some oranges and blueberries?”  “Could you watch the kids for an hour so I can get to the gym?” Your giving friends will appreciate specific ideas about how they can help.

5. Take care of your health.  Get good nutrition, plenty of sleep, and regular exercise to stay in top health.  Wash your hands regularly to prevent colds and flu.  Manage your stress with laughter, a prayer or even a deep breath.  Nourish your soul with a taste of activities that recharge your batteries such as writing in your journal or gardening.  Finally, talk to your doctor if you feel depressed or anxious.   

The best strategies for effective caregiving include preparation, acts of self-care and reaching out for help. That begins with the courage to start talking openly about caregiving.

How to Spot Elder Abuse

By Roz Jones

Elder abuse is described by the following acts among family and members of the household, any nursing home staff or any individual. 

– When somebody attempts or causes physical injury to an elder

– When the family member or staff of a nursing home try to or is trying to place an elder in terror or alarm of physical harm by torment, threat or harassment

– When one is convincing or persuading an elder by strength or intimidation to participate in a certain act from which the elder has the right to withhold

– When one meaningfully confines the movements of an elder without his consent

– Threatening the elder to a crime of violence

1. Detecting Abuse: 

– Burn markings from cigarette

– Black eye, lacerations, bruises or cuts that can not be explained

– Rope marks, a sign that the elder had been tied or slashed upon

– Hair loss, a sign that the elder’s hair was pulled

– Bodily sores and wounds

– Fingernails that are broken

– The elder’s skin is very poor condition

– Fractures of the bone

– Bite marks

– Eye glasses are broken

– Laboratory results are positive of drug overdose

– The elder displays a sudden change of behavior

– The care giver refuses to allow visitors to see the elder

2. Signs Of Neglect: 

– Sores are untreated

– Displays significant signs of malnutrition

– May show signs of insanity

– Lack of personal hygiene care

3. Signs Of Emotional Abuse: 

– May display a nervous behavior

– Constantly be disturbed or upset

– Displays a negative attitude

– Always in anxiety

– Demonstrate signs of insecurity, such as constant sucking or biting of the fingers

4. Financial Abuse: 

– Unknown withdrawal from the elder’s account

– Unusual ATM withdrawals and switching of accounts

– The elder tend to withdraw money often

– The elder does not receive his pension or Social Security check from the mail

– The elder, without any valid reason, revises his will and changes his beneficiary

– The elder unexplainably signs contracts that results to unwanted financial commitment

– Signature was forged

– The elder has plenty of unpaid bill, despite his assets that can very well cover the bill

– Strange credit card charges

5. Signs Of Sexual Abuse

– Mysterious and unexplained genital infection

– Anal or vaginal bleeding that can not be explained

– Ripped underwear

– The elder may tell someone that she has been sexually abused

– Genitals are bruised

– The elder may report that her care giver is showing her pornographic materials

– The report of the elder that she is forced to touch someone’s genitals, observe sexual acts, tell dirty stories and pose nude for a picture

6. How Can You Prevent Abuse To Yourself As An Elder?

– Keep and continue contacts with friends and neighbors

– Work out on a buddy system with other elders in the home

– Be active socially, do not be in isolation

– Protest and speak up if you are not happy or contented with the way your caregiver or other family member treats you. Tell somebody

– Request your friends and other relatives to visit you often

– Open your mail personally

– Never sign anything unless it was reviewed by someone that you trust

– Always review your will once in a while

– Coordinate so that your pension or Social Security check be deposited directly to your bank account than being sent by mail

7. How Can You Prevent Abuse To Others?

– Pay attention. Be wary and look out for signals that might point towards abuse

– Call your loved one as frequently as possible

– Visit your loved one often and make certain that she is well taken cared of

– Always be open to your loved one, taking the time to always talk to her and assure her that you are there to help and can be trusted

– Get permission to periodically look into your loved one’s bank accounts as well as credit card statements for unauthorized withdrawals or transactions

8. How To Get Help If You Or Someone You Know Is Suffering Abuse:

911 or your local police emergency number or your local hospital emergency room

National Center on Elder Abuse

Washington, DC 20005

(202) 898-2586

Fax: (202) 898-2583

Area Agency on Aging

Almost all States have information as well as a referral line that can be useful and helpful in locating and finding services for elder abuse and neglect victims.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

The hotline provides support counseling for victims of domestic violence and provides links to 2,500 local support services for abused women. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

1-800-799-SAFE

TDD 1-800-787-3224

Talking to Aging Parents About End-of-Life Matters

By Roz Jones

There comes a time when family roles switch. Traditionally, parents are the leaders of the family and make the decisions and set the tone for how things are done under their roof. As parents age, this can shift if there are medical or other issues at hand. 

Sometimes families have to switch up roles and adult children must step in to help parents make end of life decisions. This can be uncomfortable if there hasn’t been much discussion leading up to the role reversal. Still, talking to aging parents about end-of-life matters is always a good thing. 

Why? 

Talking about end-of-life matters preserves dignity- If your parents lived life well, they likely made the best choices they could under the circumstances and deserve to live out their lives in a dignified way. When adults become frail, they appear to be more like toddlers than thriving and vital adults. It’s easy to forget that they were once independent and able to care for their own needs. Talking about end-of-life expectations can help them preserve their dignity by respecting where they want to live, what boundaries they have on their medical care and day-to-day living, and their wishes about their death experience and how their remains and estate are managed. 

Talking about end-of-life matters eliminates confusion- The earlier you can speak with aging parents about the legal protections available for themselves and their estate, the easier things will be in their absence. Being open about advance directives, wills, trusts, and other important topics makes things easier for you if you are managing their care or estate. Don’t wait until your aging parent is too frail or ill to engage in a mature conversation to find out what they have taken care of and what vulnerabilities there may be. The sooner the better.  


Talking about end-of-life matters brings families together- There’s something about facing mortality that humbles people and helps them keep the main thing the main thing. Talking with your aging parents creates an opportunity to say things that you don’t wan to leave unsaid and to say thank you for all they have done to raise you, love you, and be there for you when you needed them so much. Many people hold onto life because they have regrets or fears. You can help your parents feel peace and love by having important conversations that bring healing and comfort. 

Talking to your parents about aging and end-of-life plans isn’t morbid. It’s a mature and necessary part of life. The sooner you can sort out what your parents expect, how they are going to manage their expectations, and what role you will play in the plan, the easier you can be prepared and ready when the time comes.