Caring for an aging parent can bring both joy and frustration. Calling “211” or visiting www.ucare.utah.gov can provide caregivers with information and support.
The ‘sandwich generation’ is caring for aging parents at home
It’s a debate nearly every family will face: what to do when an aging parent can no longer care for himself or herself.
Some situations may require the parent to move to a skilled nursing facility or assisted living center. Others may allow a child or spouse to assume the role of primary caregiver.
All in the Family
For spouses or children who elect to take a parent into their home, there are realities to consider, says Tim Sorenson, hospice manager for IHC Home Care and former ombudsman for the Area Agency on Aging.
A spouse who tries to care for a loved one may have health problems of his or her own and become so consumed with their newfound responsibilities that personal needs go unnoticed.
“More often than not, their own health suffers,” he says.
Children who take aging parents into their home to care for them are usually trying to juggle a variety of obligations, including a growing family of their own. Households with three generations under one roof – the caregiver, the parent, and the caregiver’s children – are called the “sandwich generation.”
“In other societies, three or four generations will live under one roof,” Tim says. “In our society, it’s just one family. [An older parent moving in] does affect things quite a bit.”
Typically, it is the oldest daughter who takes on the responsibility of caring for mom or dad. Males usually assume the sister or daughter in the family will help out, he says.
There is also a difference between family members who make a conscious decision to care for a parent and those who have the responsibility thrown in their lap by other family members. In such situations, a spouse or child may feel compelled out of duty or guilt to take care of a parent when they are really unable to give proper care.
“It is really different for everybody because everyone has a different threshold for what they can handle,” he says. “When it starts to affect your own well-being, that’s when it’s time to get help. If a caregiver feels trapped, like they can’t go anywhere, or they’re depressed, that’s a good time to say, “Hey, I need help.’”
A Helping Hand
Home care, hospice and respite services may help relieve the burdens placed on family members.
“There is help available that people don’t tap into because it looks so daunting and big,” Tim says.
A good place to start is by calling “211,” a touchtone referral system for social agencies in the state. Using “211” helps identify caregiver needs and will refer the caller to an appropriate agency.
The state’s Department of Aging Services also runs a Web site specifically for caregivers, www.ucare.utah.gov. The site includes information on state programs like “Meals on Wheels.”
Financial assistance for services depends on income and need. Individuals may choose to pay for services privately, although many qualify for Medicare and other government-paid services.
“There are a lot more services available than people think,” Tim says. “It just boils down to how much care they can give themselves.”
Some may choose services that relieve them of day-to-day physical duties; others may want nonmedical help in the form of light housekeeping or shopping for the loved one.
“We try to go in and take the burden away from the caregiver as far as the physical needs,” Tim says. “They can play the role they want to. They can be a spouse or a daughter again.”
Restoring the balance and roles between the caregiver and the individual receiving care can improve the quality of life for all involved, he says. It may also help guard against additional sickness and even abuse.
“Everybody has a breaking point. If you’re that burned out you run the risk of being short-tempered with them and saying something that you would never think of in a moment of desperation,” he says.
And that’s something no child or spouse ever wants to face.
Glossary of Senior Services
Home Care – Help dealing with chronic or acute conditions; not necessarily long-term, may be temporary
Hospice Care – End-of-life care provided when a patient has six months to live or less; Medicare pays for hospice services
Nonmedical Agencies – Provide light housekeeping, meal preparation and other services
Assisted Living – Facilities where seniors have separate apartments and are largely independent; some facilities have access to home care if residents need it
Skilled Nursing Facility – For those with an injury that requires long-term care; also known as long-term care centers or nursing homes
Senior Centers – Offer activities, meals and social interaction for elderly and reprieve for caregiver; not a drop-off, no medical services