What You Can Do
“I’ve looked at Life from both sides now. From up and down, and still, somehow, it’s Life’s illusions I recall. “ Joni Mitchell was probably not thinking about caregivers when she wrote those words, but, when looking at caregiving and aging, “both sides now” is an apt perspective.
On one side of this equation, perhaps the more obvious side, the loved one for whom we are caring. People are living longer now; many can expect to become centenarians. The frailties and indignities of old age mount – from the annoyance of minor arthritic pain, occasional urinary incontinence, and forgetfulness in the “young old” (ages 65 to 74) to full-blown disability from dementia or disease “oldest old” (85 and older). Organ systems start to fail. There is also the impact and progression of disease – limbs lost to diabetes, limited mobility due to COPD or emphysema, degeneration from ALS or MS, to name just a few.
What are the illusions we hold on to? For “Boomers”, a typical one is that we remain young forever. Or that how things are today is how they will continue to be. But neither of those statements is true. (Here’s an interesting article on the aging of the world’s population)
Caregivers are aging. For instance, my 70 year old friend is supporting his 93 year old mother, who took care of his 102 year old father. Those numbers are not uncommon.
The unfair paradox is that as we age, our caregiving demands increase. Our loved ones, whether parents or partners, become more sick and more in need of our support, at the very same time that we become less physically able to provide those levels of care.
Research at Johns Hopkins has been particularly insightful about the impact of chronic conditions, aging, and caregiving. Check out this link. For a graph and discussion of increased caregiving responsibilities with increased age, see chapter 46
Aging parents who have adult children with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues find themselves in their 70’s and 80’s still dealing with the challenges of their children’s disabilities. While a 40 year old parent may be able to restrain an angry 8 year old, what happens when that parent is now 80 and that child 48?
What are caregivers to do if we do not want to live in “Life’s illusions”? We need to recognize that we, too, are aging and we need to plan for those life changes. Here are some questions that can help guide the process:
Who can take over if I am not able to provide care? Create a “succession plan”. Other relatives? Friends? Paid caregivers? Residential care? Services like Friends Life Care, provide options beyond the usual home care agency vs nursing home.
Are my finances protected? Talk to an attorney about creating a special needs trust so that you
have access to your money as you need it, but it will be protected for the care recipient if you die first.
What supports do I need? As you, the caregiver, age, attention to your health and well-being becomes even more critical. Do you have ways to get a break, to let others help take care? Are you taking care of your physical and emotional needs?
What community resources are available? From adult day care to foundations that can help pay
home expenses, there are myriad resources that are underpublicized and underused. Local Area
Agency on Aging or social service agencies can be a place to start. A good internet search can
turn up some amazing resources. Also check local churches, mosques, and synagogues; they have
community service committees.
Although it makes a great song, when it comes to caregiving and aging, life is best lived by looking at both sides without illusions.