According to AARP’s Caregiver Identification Study, "about one-third of the U.S. population age 18 and older currently provide caregiving assistance or have provided some kind of caregiving assistance in the past year.” The majority of people enter into caregiving with little or no experience providing care for an aging individual. Before embarking on the caregiving journey, it’s important that family caregivers understand the demands and learn the ins and outs of providing care to elderly family members. The most important aspects are:
- Managing stress
- Meeting basic needs
- Managing medical care
- Care plans
The family caregiver generally provides care within his or her own home or the home of the aging individual. As people age, household safety becomes a primary concern. Aging parents are subject to falls, burns, or even wandering out the front door. It’s important to ensure that whatever living environment you choose for your parent is safe and set up to accommodate the needs of the aging adult.
Caregiving is a stressful pursuit for both the caregiver and the individual receiving care. The family caregiver spends long hours attending to the needs of another individual, often forsaking his or her own needs, or those of the rest of the family. And the aging individual often feels as if his or her independence is being taken away. It is important that family caregivers attend to their own physical and emotional needs as well as those of their aging loved one.
A caregiver is responsible for such mundane tasks as cooking, cleaning, health care management, and personal care. Bathing and attending to the toilet needs of an aging parent can be difficult and/or embarrassing for many people. Some families find it can be easier to engage the services of a home health aide for some of these tasks.
Everyone needs human interaction. Keeping one’s parent at home is counterproductive if he or she does not have access to a network of friends and family. For this reason, it’s important that caregivers not only provide basic care for aging individuals, but also ensure that the psycho-social needs of the individual are met.
The aging parent who no longer drives can have significant transportation needs. Aging individuals may have many health care appointments that must be kept and social engagements that keep them emotionally connected to other family members and the community. Most communities have paid and volunteer transportation services that families can take advantage of to lessen the burden on their own time and resources.
Managing medical care
It sometimes seems as if older people spend more time at the doctor’s office than anywhere else. The family caregiver must not only coordinate medical care, but also keep detailed records of medications and medical conditions, and be prepared to manage potential emergencies and changes in the health care needs of the individual.
Some caregivers elect to work with a professional geriatric care manager to develop a care plan for an aging relative. If such a service is not affordable, families and caregivers can develop their own plan by coordinating services, making regular assessments, and managing the medical and personal care of their aging family member.
The National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA) has information to help caregivers stay connected and informed.