What to do when mom or dad can no longer care for themselves: 5 steps to avoid caregiver burnout

As our next wave of baby boomers approach retirement, many adults will struggle with the challenge of providing care and support for an aging parent or spouse, especially in cases where early dementia or disabilities begin to limit their independence. Most adult children do not have the experience, background or time to make informed decisions about healthcare. What level of care is needed? How can their medical needs be met? Where will your parents feel most comfortable? These questions can make caregiving stressful for families that are unprepared for this dramatic lifestyle change.

Here are five steps to avoid caregiver burnout and get you on track to ensuring your parents receive the love and care they deserve during this delicate time:

  1. Early Care Planning – Communication is the first step to early care planning. While early planning may be an emotional topic, it is important to involve family, friends and health care providers to make the conversation easier. Discussing your parents’ wishes ahead of time decreases the chance of future conflict and increases the probability of a parent accepting help later in life. Assemble your legal documents; prepare a health care directive, durable power of attorney for health care, financial power of attorney and have your loved one complete a living will. It’s important that you organize your records so family members and advisors know where and how to access them should it become necessary.
  2. Determine Level of Care – If your mom or dad has impaired mobility and health issues that make it difficult or impossible for them to take care of one or more Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) independently, then it’s time to find them the appropriate help from the following options:
  • Acute Rehab (Rehabilitation Hospital) – Close medical attention or complex care, intensive therapy up to 3 hours a day, physician visits daily
  • Skilled Nursing Facility (Subacute Rehab, Nursing Home Rehab) – Located in nursing homes, loved one must have a need for skilled nursing care, less intensive therapy, physician visits weekly, covered by medicare after a 3-day minimum hospital stay for 20-100 days
  • Long-Term Care Facility (aka Intermediate Care Facility) – Located in nursing homes, permanent residence for someone who needs help with ADLs, provides medication administration, physician visits every 60 days, not covered by Medicare, only Medicaid, private pay or long-term care insurance covers this.
  • Assisted Living Facility/Adult Care Home (ALF) – Residence for individuals who are semi-independent in ADLs, provides medication administration and personal support, resident may continue seeing their usual physician, no visits required, generally private pay or private insurance
  • Home HealthCovered by Medicare for short-term skilled needs following hospitalization, usually only 3 times a week, this situation is dependent on the patient’s ability to care for themselves and/or have family or other caregivers in place, moderate cognitive impairment, generally requires 24 hour supervision, private pay for outside help, respite services may be available short term.

3. Bring in Back-Up – It’s important to collaborate with family, friends, neighbors, clergy or a network of health care professionals to maximize the support and care your parents receive. Adult day care centers (Medicaid covers this) or respite care options can be a great way to help you recharge while your loved one enjoys some social activities. Studies show that the stress of caregiving can hurt the health of caregivers, making it imperative that you schedule private time and weekly outings for yourself. Also, be sure to establish a good sleep routine and healthy eating habits. Employer assistance can be another great way to gain additional time to organize your life and set up a support system. According to The Family and Medical Leave Act, larger companies must offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of employees with a parent, spouse or child who is seriously ill.

4. Join a Support Group – The Local Area on Aging, Benefits.gov, and The National Counsel on Aging are great places to start gathering information about programs that are available to your elderly parent. Support groups like Cohana Talk connects you to a community of caregivers sharing similar stories, ideas and advice. Joining these forums allows you to ask questions or just vent when you need to, as no one understands your situation better than another caregiver. A strong community support is the key to overcoming the challenges of caregiving.

5. Recognize Your Limits – Caregiving for an aging parent can be rewarding, but it’s also one of the most challenging roles you’ll face as a son or daughter. Stress is an unavoidable part of being a caregiver, but you can limit the emotional and physical strain by learning to delegate and ask for help. You cannot do everything yourself, so make use of as many supportive resources as possible when caring for an older adult.

For more in-depth information on housing options, or on programs or services for older adults, download the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging PDF: Housing Options for Older Adults – A guide for Making Housing Decisions

Interested in a more affordable private care solution? Check out our community of professional caregivers who provide personal care and support in an intimate residential setting.


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