Professional Caregivers–Your Ally in Eldercare

“To everything there is a season…” The famous beginning of the timeless verse from Ecclesiastes has inspired many thinkers and artists—and of course the famous tune. For Boomers who may have even sung along to Pete Seeger or the Byrds rendition (as “Turn! Turn! Turn!”), perhaps a verse should be inserted, along the lines of  “A time for caring for one’s aging parents.”

Unfortunately, the stark realities of eldercare leave no time for such wordplay. Even the most basic decisions are emotionally tough, and understandably are often fraught with anxiety. Furthermore, as any designated family caregiver will tell you, the decisions of adult children may end up negatively affecting relationships with the parents, not to mention other family members. There’s another, more positive approach that represents a better option for many, however.

This option comes with the introduction of an experienced partner: a professional in-home caregiver. He or she can be your solid ally in this transitional period, taking on caregiving responsibilities while at the same time protecting the existing relationship you have had with your parents. Looking at it another way, a good in-home caregiver can allow you to be just a son or a daughter again. You can thus enjoy being fully present for your elderly parent—without taking on the additional role of the stressed-out family caregiver. One part in the grand family drama we call life is hard enough.

Family Caregiver: The “Second Job” of Many Adult Children

When it comes to family caregivers, there’s no labor shortage. One in three American adults serves as a caregiver, according to a 2009 AARP survey. Most (86%) look after elderly relatives and spend about 19 hours each week on everything from giving baths to balancing checkbooks. (The other 14% of family caregivers look after disabled relatives.) Notably, two-thirds of all caregivers are women.

Due to the high demands of caregiving, many of these women and men have had their primary jobs affected. They’ve reduced their work hours, changed careers—and in some cases, stopped working altogether. In today’s economy with its very tight labor market even minor changes to hours and compensation could prove even more difficult for any worker needing to attend to a parent or loved one. Finally, while most caregivers surveyed don’t consider their duties “a burden,” over half of them do nevertheless express “feeling isolated” from other family members and friends. This isolation, in turn, often leads to resentment and guilt; and it of course compounds the already challenging endeavor of adapting senior loved ones to a whole new way of life that entails asking for, and accepting, assistance.

For many family caregivers there are two distinct components to the unpaid caregiver second job. The first, and most urgent, could be called ‘hands-on’ eldercare. This encompasses everything from exercise, diet and nutrition to daily activities, brain health and social interaction. The second covers just about everything else, including looking after housing and upkeep, financial responsibilities, insurance, medical arrangements, family communications and overseeing daily care. Combined, the dual responsibilities can simply become overwhelming.

In-Home Care: Your Caregiver Ally

The job of a professional caregiver includes taking care of families— often through partnering with, and providing emotional support to, adult children. During the first phase of any caregiver assignment
Good Company Senior Care, California’s most selective full-service, in-home senior care agency, works closely with families to help them understand that:

This last item is understandably the most tricky. There’s almost nothing more terrifying for a senior than accepting some diminution of independence. These little things like giving up the car keys… accepting help with simple, everyday tasks… all entail the overall loss of privacy. We often have to work with and assuage both sides of the equation, reassuring children we will protect their parents—while at the same time winning over the parents. Finding ways to persuade them that giving up a little independence will bring their children peace of mind requires experience and expertise. We understand that, fundamentally, it works both ways. Comprehending and accepting this dynamic helps families make the change together.

Shouldering the Costs of Caregiving

Of course not everyone can afford a professional caregiver from a licensed, insured and reputable in-home care company. Cost-effective long-term care insurance certainly helps offset some of the associated costs. When you add up the aging population and skyrocketing healthcare costs, you’d think long-term care insurance would be selling itself. But according to the Health Insurance Association of America, a mere 1.4 million LTC policies were purchased between 2001 and 2003. That’s a very small fraction of the population that may need in-home or nursing home care in the next twenty years. The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that more than 28.4 million older Americans will need such care by 2030 if not sooner.

Honestly, with so much to recommend them, why aren’t these policies being snatched up? There are two main reasons. First, LTC insurance reminds Boomers of their own mortality; this kills the sale. Second: LTC insurance also doesn’t fit well into a 15-second sound bite. But here’s the good news: Because LTC policies aren’t selling as well as they should, premiums on new policies are low, making them a bargain in health care.

Going it Alone

Can’t afford in-home care and don’t have LTC insurance? Thankfully, many businesses in the United States recognize the potential crisis that we face, and are offering more support than ever for the family caregiver.

So even when you have to go it alone, remember that help, support and advice are always available. Reach out to experts and other family caregivers to create your own support network. It can be done!

The Best Solution For Your Family

We recently worked with a family in Los Angeles that began the process by contracting with us for 4 hours a day for a few days a week. Our mandate was rather narrow: to spend quality time with the matriarch of the family, making sure that proper food was prepared and instructions for medicine were followed to the letter. The decision to limit our activity thus was made to save money—and because mom simply didn’t believe she needed the help. In fact, she was still angry that she was being forced to give up the keys to her car at the tender young age of 84!

Within a few weeks, our hours and days were expanded at the request of both the mother and the children. As trust and also the relationship between caregiver, client and family began to grow, everyone realized this was the best solution–and the only solution that could keep the siblings from fighting over responsibility. Most importantly, mom, the object of all the fuss, genuinely enjoyed the company and found it easier to focus on those activities that made her happy. Without her children trying to micromanage her life, she got back to taking walks and meeting with friends. There is indeed “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” 

Jack C. Merrick is the co-owner and co-executive director of Good Company Senior Care, an independent, in-home caregiver service with offices in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.