When You Can No Longer Care for an Aging Parent

You’re the primary caregiver for your aging parent. You also have obligations to your children and spouse, and likely a job. As the current "sandwich generation," what do you do when you can’t do it all? When you can no longer care for an aging parent, here’s what to consider next.

The Difficult Role of Family Caregiver

  • More than 65 million people (> ¼ of the population) provide care for a family member or friend.
  • More than 1 in 3 family caregivers (36%) are caring for a parent
  • A caregiver spends an average of 20 hours a week providing care for their loved one. 13% of family caregivers provide 40 hours of care a week or more.
  • Approximately 2 out of 3 are women. The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her.

Statistics from Caregiver Action Network 

 

Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs anyone can have. It is physically challenging, there are a hundred details a day to take care of, and it’s emotionally exhausting. Family caregivers are always on call, and emotionally intertwined with the elderly parents they care for. As a result, long-term family caregivers are likely to suffer from health problems and caregiver burnout.

 

All of these statistics are by way of saying, you’re not alone.

Stepping Away from the Role of Caregiver

 

It’s not selfish if you decide you can’t be the caregiver for your parents anymore. As the caring, compassionate person you are (or you wouldn’t have taken on a caregiver role in the first place!), you’ll probably have mixed feelings about stepping away. Caregiver guilt is a real thing. However, the self-preservation instincts you’re following will give you renewed energy to find your parent the best long-term care solution.

 

Stepping back from your caregiver role also allows you some perspective to reassess your parent’s current health condition and financial resources. This will help you better understand the options available for providing them with a new caregiver situation.

Steps to Take to Assess Your Aging Parent’s Needs

 

Assess independence

If your elderly parent is able to live somewhat independently (not bedridden), one of the first things you can do is get a sense of how safe your parent is in their current home. An Occupational Therapist (OT) is the healthcare professional who can perform a home assessment. The O.T. evaluates both the home and how well your parent goes about their business of daily living in the space. Then she will provide tailored recommendations for economical home modifications to make it safer and more accessible for your parent.  

 

Have a conversation

Rachel Seltzer, MS, OTR/L, CAPS, an occupational therapist specializing in working with senior adults at TCARE, says to have an honest conversation with your parent about your decision while focusing on their needs.  She recommends that you:

  • Empower them to be in control
  • Be inclusive and let them know you want to work together to find them the best care
  • Engage them in the solution

 

Understand the economics

If you haven’t already (or recently), work with your parent to set up meetings with their financial and legal advisors. You need to determine what plans they made for their retirement. It’s important to know what resources are available for their long-term care. You also need to understand what decision-making capabilities you (or other family members) need to conduct their care, such as medical and financial powers of attorney.

 

Get support for your decision

Not everyone in your family is going to be happy about your stepping away from your caregiving role. Your parent may still be resistant to the change; siblings may fight the idea (especially if they think the burden of care will fall on them). When you inform everyone of your decision, you’ll need diplomatic talking points and an advocate or two by your side!

Care and Caregiver Options

 

Based on what you learned about your parent’s condition and available financial resources, here are some care options to consider when you no longer can be the caregiver:

  • If your parent is able to stay safely at home, they may do well with a hired caregiver, and you can contract out for home maintenance services.
  • A family member might be incentivized to become a paid caregiver if your parent qualifies through Medicaid or a veterans’ program.
  • Look at assisted living options – there are many quality facilities that provide different levels of care for different costs.

Your parent gets the final decision for their living situation, unless you have legal power of attorney for their care. If after reviewing all the options you think you may want to continue a caregiver oversight role (while delegating the physical care), there are aging care support specialists and programs to help. Your county government agency on aging is a great place to start because they connect you to local resources.

 

Once you’ve made your decision, then be at peace with it. Stepping away from the role of sole caregiver to your aging parent just might renew your loving parent-child relationship. 

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