For many families today working a full time job and managing the responsibilities of a home is just the beginning of their day. According to recent studies, as many as 42 percent of employed Americans (more than 54 million people) have provided care for an elder in the last five years. The average age of both men and women caregivers today is 49.
Families have always been the main care providers for their older and/or disabled loved ones. According to several different studies, it is estimated that 80% of the daily care needs provided to older adults is provided by a family member or a friend.
In the past, women most often assumed the role of caregiver. However, in today’s economy with more women working, people living longer, and families living further distances from loved ones new challenges have to be faced in the way the caregiving needs are being met.
There are many variations in the care provided. It can range from bathing, dressing and feeding assistance; to everyday tasks such as preparing meals, providing transportation, managing finances, organizing medications and coordinating appointments. Most caregivers absorb these responsibilities themselves while relying on family and friends to help out.
There is an estimated one in four households juggling the care for a relative, raising a family, and managing a career. For many people, caregiving can seem like a second job.
Caregiving can take an additional toll on the working caregiver in many ways, including health issues, lack of sleep, extra time taken off work, lower productivity, lost career opportunities and disrupted relationships to name a few.
Often times caregivers go from one day to the next doing what needs to be done without creating a long-term plan or finding resources that could possibly make their life easier. Below are a few steps that may help caregivers take some control over their situation.
Step One: Realistically Assess Your Situation
• Make a list of everything you do as a caregiver
• Write down the areas of your life that you feel are suffering because of the added responsibilities. For example; I haven’t been on a date with my spouse in months.
• Write down your personal feelings, I am exhausted, I am angry at my brother for not helping, etc. No one needs to see the list; this is you being honest with yourself about what you are feeling.
Step Two: What Can I Do Differently
• What things on your first list could you delegate to someone else, combine together with other tasks or not do at all. Sometimes we make ourselves crazy by thinking we have to do certain things just because we have always done them. What on your list can you give up?
• Who could do some of the things on your list? A neighbor, a friend, a relative, a volunteer or possibly someone you hire? There are many services available both volunteer and for hire that might be able to assist you. The internet is a great resource to gather names and numbers in your area. You can also try disease specific agencies, the Area Office on Aging; the Respite Resource Center, to get started. In Nebraska, Care Consultants for the Aging has a booklet of all types of services and resources.
Step Three Hold a Family Meeting
Having a family meeting is a great way to keep everyone informed as well as create an environment of sharing your needs and gaining support from others. This is not a time to place blame or guilt, but rather a time to make decisions on how to best accomplish the caregiving responsibilities as a team.
• Create an informal agenda so everyone knows what you will be discussing.
• Include everyone who is or should be involved. If someone is long distance use technology to bring them on board.
• Hold meetings regularly so issues and emotions don’t build up.
• If necessary bring someone in to facilitate the meeting.
Step Four Talk to Your Employer
Let the people you work with and for know what is going on in your life. They may be noticing that you are overly stressed or short tempered, but have no idea why. Be honest about your situation and ask for what you need. Many companies are taking steps to help their employees go through these difficult times. In most cases, it is more costly to hire and train a new employee than it is to help a quality employee through a difficult time.
Flexibility in scheduling is the most requested action. Sometimes a little flexibility can save everyone, including your employer, a whole lot of stress. Could some of your work be done at home, could you work untraditional hours to complete certain tasks?
Sometimes we all have to think outside the box to make things work. Just because you have always done something a certain way does not mean it is the only way to do it. However, before you can make changes you have to know what needs to change and that begins with step one.