For Caregivers and Caretakers, the Realities of Eldercare Are Stark

A dangerous myth exists in our country regarding the elderly. Many people assume that a sort of eldercare Shangri-La exists, an idyllic place where they can take Mom or Dad in their declining golden years. They believe that finding this comfortable and mostly government-paid-for home is all they need to do to ensure their aging parents’ needs will be taken care of.

Unfortunately, such a magical place doesn’t exist, and even if it did, most of us probably couldn’t afford it.

An Escalating National Eldercare Crisis

With life expectancy rising and 77 million baby boomers entering retirement age, the United States is experiencing an eldercare crisis with enormous challenges facing seniors and their family caretakers. Most middle-income Americans are unaware that the government does not generally cover long-term-care expenses. This is a distressing fact for those Americans age 85 and older, a number that stands at 6 million and is estimated to increase to over 14 million by 2040.

Responsibilities and Challenges of Fiduciaries

There is no simple solution for the “sandwich generation” that is taking care of both young children and elderly parents or other close relatives. Such individuals are often thrust into the role of fiduciary, which means they have the obligation and power to act for another, either by legal appointment or by assuming the role because the person needs caretaking. The responsibilities of a fiduciary include dealing with myriad issues in the financial, medical and legal realms and working through family situations, crises and life-threatening events related to the elderly person’s care.

Caregiving is not only hard work but also comes with three main challenges:

  • Disruptions to your employment: Caregiving takes time, and caregivers often have to use work time to handle eldercare responsibilities. There may be urgent interruptions that interfere with work duties, such as an unexpected fall that requires a trip to the emergency room. Caregivers find that a lot of their vacation and sick time is used up in providing eldercare. Additional employment-related sacrifices include giving up advancement opportunities and the potential loss of fringe benefits.
  • Tapping into your purse or wallet: Caregiving requires money, and eldercare is never cheap. Caregivers typically use up a lot of gasoline and other resources in caring for their loved one. They also incur costs in delegating the tasks they would normally do themselves, such as lawn care and housecleaning. Additionally, caregivers can often lose wages or business income, which can be difficult to make up.
  • Tolls on your health: Caregiving takes its toll, and not all of the costs are financial. Caregivers frequently experience increased stress and burnout. Elderly loved ones who have brain-related issues may exhibit agitation, angry outbursts or inappropriate behaviors such as verbal or physical abuse. Dealing with such conduct may lead to a rise in stress-relief activities for caregivers, such as eating out more often and consuming more alcohol. There also is the stress of constantly being on vigil (or constantly “standing your battle stations,” as it’s referred to in the Navy). Additionally, there may be increased medical costs for the caregiver from stress-related illnesses.

Care Management Stressors

An additional stressor for caregivers is the proper management of the costs for the care recipient. These include the medical costs not paid for by insurance or Medicare, the legal costs for such needs as power of attorney and living trust documents, and the costs of formal caregivers while the caregiver in charge is at work or sleeping. Of course, one of the largest costs for the recipient is care settings such as adult day care, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The Bottom Line

Now, this may all seem like doom and gloom, but that is not my intent. The silver lining is that when caregivers understand the realities of caring for elderly relatives, harsh as they often may be, they are far better able to plan for and manage the stress involved in what can be a daunting task. Caregivers need to know about financial matters, have good communication skills and understanding of human relations, possess a great deal of patience and stamina, and acquire knowledge of health care terms, medical conditions and medications.

Information is power, and my objective with these posts is to arm you with the data and tools you need to successfully navigate the eldercare maze.