Are you becoming a family carer?

Family members are the primary providers of geriatric care in this country. About 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past 12 months, according to a recent study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. Unpaid caregivers provide 85% of long-term care.

The transition from spouse or child to foster care can occur suddenly or gradually, and it can be short- or long-term. You may notice behaviors from time to time that mean an older family member may need long-term help, such as:

• Forgetfulness and confusion.

• Unexplained weight loss.

• Changes in household habits.

• Loss of interest in favorite activities and increased isolation.

• Poor personal hygiene.

• Dramatic mood swings.

• Problems with balance and mobility.

• Damaged property, such as dented car fenders and broken glasses.

Or you may suddenly find yourself caring. Your normally active and healthy spouse gets a heart attack or breaks a hip. A neighbor calls to tell you that mom is wandering around the neighborhood looking confused.

And just like that, you become a family caregiver.

While it can start with a few activities, such as driving seniors to doctor appointments or helping with grocery shopping, it can quickly become overwhelming. Many relatives also work and provide care and juggle competing responsibilities.


You may have a demanding job and other family obligations.  However, adult children and unpaid caregivers provide 85% of long-term care in the United States.

You may have a demanding job and other family obligations. However, adult children and unpaid caregivers provide 85% of long-term care in the United States.

Research shows that care takes a significant emotional, physical and financial toll. For example, home helpers are not covered by Medicare or private insurance (unless it is a good long-term care policy), so it is a separate expense.

To raise awareness of these issues, the nonprofit Caregiver Action Network (CAN) has set November as National Family Caregivers Month. CAN’s website (www.caregiveraction.org) offers comprehensive information, advice and resources for those in charge of care. Research has shown that relatives who use support networks, whether online or in the community, are less likely to experience burnout.

The transition to family care does not have to be random. If you were to hire a private patient advocate or geriatric care manager, they would:

• Collect and coordinate information from healthcare providers.

• Assess your care recipient and the home environment.

Examine available public and / or private services and resources.

• Communicate between all parties so that everyone is on the same page.

You can learn to think like a patient advocate or care manager by taking a clear look at the circumstances you and your care recipient are facing.

Begin by assessing the elderly’s ability to function independently, both from a practical and cognitive point of view. What is their state of health and how complex is their care? Can they continue to live in their homes as it is? If it needs changes for availability, then how much will it cost?

Start establishing a network of other care sources. Are there additional family members who can strike, or willing neighbors? Are there community resources, such as adult day care? Start researching the quality, cost, and availability of home care agencies in your area at the times you need backup.

Find out if the care recipient has important legal documents, such as a directive on advanced medical care and durable powers of attorney for health care and finances. If you are going to be the primary provider, you want to be sure that you are able to make decisions on their behalf if they can no longer do so.

Finally, assess your own abilities and resources. How is your health? How demanding is your job and other family responsibilities? Do you have the financial surplus to provide what the recipient needs? A 2021 AARP survey found that 78% of family caregivers regularly incur their own costs of caring for a loved one, with the average annual cost of $ 7,200.

Once you have answered all these questions, you can formulate a plan that will tackle the main concerns first and help you provide care and reassurance to an aging loved one.

My last piece of advice is not to wait until there is a crisis. Home Instead (www.homeinstead.com) recommends the 40/70 rule. The idea is this: If you are a child around 40 and your parent is 70, it’s time to start having early conversations about possible future needs, wants, and outcomes. Their website provides a useful toolkit to start these sometimes difficult discussions.

Being a family caregiver is not easy. Ask for help, and familiarize yourself with all the resources that are out there.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient attorney. She has been a Critical Nurse for more than 30 years and is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She offers a free 30-minute phone consultation by calling (312) 788-2640 to make an appointment.

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